Irena Kogan, Jörg Dollmann, Markus Weißmann
In the Ear of the Listener: The Role of Foreign Accent in Interethnic Friendships and Partnerships

International Migration Review, 2021: 55, Heft 3, S. 746-784
ISSN: 0197-9183 (print), 1747-7379 (online)

This article examines the association between accented speech and the formation of friendships and partnerships among immigrants and native-born majority residents in Germany. Drawing on the sixth wave of the German extension of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey in Four European Countries, we analyze a neglected aspect of language — pronunciation — and find that speaking with a foreign accent is a more important correlate of the incidence of interethnic partnerships than of interethnic friendships. We argue that beyond its primary function of understandability, accented speech possesses socially communicative power. Accent transmits signals of an individual’s foreignness and cultural differences and, thus, becomes an additional marker of social distance. Such signals serve as a greater obstacle to more consequential intimate interethnic relations such as partnerships. Our findings extend the scholarly debate on the role of symbolic boundaries in social interactions between ethnic groups by yet another important boundary maker — accent.