For some people, all it takes is hearing a snippet of sultry French spoken to make them weak at the knees. Others love a crisp British accent or a lovely Irish lilt. Meanwhile the exotic exuberance of Brazilian Portuguese does it for other people. It’s a funny thing how accents can turn us on (and turn us off). But why do we consider some accents sexier than others?
Perception of Language and Accent
According to research, the reason we find some accents sexier than others all has to do with perception. Sociolinguists explain that our judgement of a language has little to do with the actual sound of a language but rather comes from how we perceive the group of people or culture that speak the language in question.
This judgement typically comes down to the level of prestige that the group holds in terms of socioeconomic status, degree of education, or other traits such as trustworthiness and general likeability.
For example, the stereotype of hot-blooded, passionate Latin people from Spain or Italy adds to our perception of these languages as sexy. Add a bit of exoticism (from a Western perspective) to the mix, such as Colombian or Argentine, and the sexy factor skyrockets.
When it comes to French, Paris is universally accepted as the city of love. We have a strong association of romance with France and French, which is why a French accent tops many people’s lists as the most romantic language in the world.
Conversely, negative societal perceptions of a group can make an accent unappealing. This perception obviously depends a lot on one’s own society. Americans typically rate Asian and Mexican accents negatively. A Russian accent is associated with the bad guys in movies, while German accents invoke images of punctual, no-nonsense, hard-working people (not bad characteristics, but not high up on the sexy scale).
Of course, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, how sexy an accent is, is entirely subjective. But if you dig a bit deeper into your associations with a language, you might find out why you find a certain accent sexy. After all, your personal teenage obsession with Heidi Klum could be the reason for your weakness for a German accent.
This theory of perception does not just apply to whole languages but also regional differences in accent. Take a British accent, for example. For Americans, a British accent is attractive. A stereotypical posh British accent is usually associated with good education and income levels. It is seen as a trustworthy accent, and thus tends to consistently rate highly on the list of favourite accents.
However, this doesn’t hold true for all British accents. A British Airways poll dug a little deeper and played Americans various regional accents from around the UK. The Glasgow accent was rated the sexiest, for which we can probably thank the likes of famous Glaswegians like James McAvoy and Peter Capaldi for bringing the sexy to Scottish. Meanwhile the Essex accent was voted the least appealing, sorry to the TOWIE cast.
Going in the opposite direction across the pond, British people voted the New York accent the most appealing American accent, while the Chicago inflection charmed very few people. The results were a surprise to many Americans. A poll where Americans judged regional American accents found the New York accent was most commonly associated with impatience, money and trouble. The Boston accent was linked with high education, and a Southern accent with beauty and countryside.
Evidently our cultural, and personal, views of a place and a people do have a big effect on how much we like an accent.
Foreign & familiar sounds
One final thing that lends weight to our judgement of an accent has to do with the familiarity of the sounds of the language.
The sounds of Latin languages like French, Italian and Spanish are a lot more familiar to an English speaker’s ears, and the melody of the language is pleasing to our ears. By comparison, a more phonetically and tonally removed language like Mandarin or Korean may sound harsh and foreign to an English speaker, causing us to view it more negatively.
Ultimately, some accents will automatically appeal to some more than others. The beauty is that there is such a diversity of accents in the world that more than a few will get your heart fluttering.
Why not take advantage of your love of a certain sexy accent to learn the language? Get in touch with us and let us help you with your language goals.