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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Rachael Lindberg, Education

Exploring speech expectations during the hiring process and perceived accent discrimination in the workplace: Outcomes for L2 French job applicants and employees in Quebec

Date & time
Tuesday, March 12, 2024
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt


Faubourg Ste-Catherine Building
1610 St. Catherine W.
Room 5.315

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Because people often infer a person’s personal and professional characteristics such as intelligence and competence from that person’s accent, employers, colleagues, or customers may react negatively toward speakers who display second language (L2) speech, which can be detrimental to those speakers’ chances of obtaining a job, their prospects of job advancement, and their sense of belonging to their workplace community. However, the majority of research on accent bias in the workplace focuses on L2 English accents and relies on listener judgements that are based on first impressions. This dissertation addresses these shortcomings by providing a comprehensive listener- and speaker-focused perspective through two complementary studies that explore how L2 French speakers are evaluated during extended job interviews and how L2 French speakers experience workplace accent discrimination in Québec.

Study 1 explored whether L1 French listeners’ evaluations of L1 and L2 French-speaking job applicants would differ under various expectation conditions (congruent, incongruent, no-expectancy). A typical interview process was emulated by presenting 55 HR-experienced listeners first with job applicants’ resumes, then with audio-recorded interview excerpts, which captured how employability evaluations and speech perception might evolve dynamically throughout the interview process. The L2 applicants were perceived as less employable than the L1 applicants. When an applicant was presumed to be an L2 speaker based on her resume, her employability was subsequently upgraded when she spoke L1 French. Lower employability evaluations of L2 applicants were related to their accent being perceived as less prestigious and more difficult to understand.

Study 2 investigated perceived accent discrimination and its possible consequences from the perspective of 60 L2 French-speaking employees. Participants provided anecdotes and responded to surveys about how they are treated at work due to their French accent and how willing they are to engage in certain work interactions. Having more frequent experiences with accent discrimination in the workplace was associated with employees avoiding taking on leadership roles, participating at meetings, and applying to certain jobs. Common stereotypes mentioned by employees were being labeled as foreigners, perceived as incompetent and unwilling to learn French, and identified as a threat to the survival of French in Québec.

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