Say These Seven Words & I’ll Know Your Social Class Instantly

According to this article (click here) by Monica Torres, strangers can figure out who and what we are from saying just seven words. Forget about what we wear, what car we drive or what we buy, simply say these seven words and your social status will be accurately judged.

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Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco and Yale University conducted experiments on the verbal and nonverbal signs of social class we signal in interactions. They recruited participants to look at 20 Facebook photographs, watch a 60-second video of participants interacting with others, and listen to seven spoken words from participants to see how well strangers can accurately guess where you stand on the social ladder.

As a New Yorker, one who was born and bred in Brooklyn no less, I am very self conscious about my speaking voice. Despite not having set foot in Brooklyn in over fifty-one years, people often comment on my New York accent. I just can’t seem to shake it (but it hasn’t stopped me from speaking my mind!)

We’ve known for decades that our voices are linked to our social status. For the speech study, the researchers cited a famous 1972 study that found that New York City store clerks in big-name department stores will self-consciously pronounce the “r” in words more. These clerks subconsciously recognized how status would be signaled when they said “fawth flaw” over “fourth floor.

So, what are these seven words? They are: “and,” “from,” “thought,” “beautiful,” “imagine,” “yellow,” and “the.”

From those seven isolated words alone, the observers could guess the participants’ social class at a rate that was higher than chance. The seven-word study builds upon previous studies that found that social class signals are everywhere, even written upon our faces. One study found that people could accurately determine whether people were rich or poor based on their faces alone.

So, in other words (no pun intended) I guess all of us are doomed, as far as social class is concerned. We can’t change our faces and yes, we can surely work on our speaking intonations but trust me, when I’m feeling tired and run down, my Brooklyn accent comes out loud and clear. It used to be a disgrace to have a Brooklyn accent, let alone live in the darn place. Now? Brooklyn is a hip, chic, cool locale, with diverse neighborhoods teaming with hipster digs, trendy professionals, blended families, amazing restaurants and cafe’s, sky-high rents and the coolest cats on the planet. Unfortunately, however, all these new, cool hipsters don’t have a typical Brooklyn accent.

I’ve been continually corrected by people on how to say certain words. It’s ‘toys‘ not ‘towyes‘. It’s ‘nuclear‘ not ‘new-clee-ah‘. Some people have been kind and just casually mention that I ‘have a distinct way of speaking’. Whatever the situation, I have never let people’s judgment of me stop me from doing anything I wanted to do. Yes, I work on my accent. Yes, I intentionally pronounce my ‘r’s’ and my ‘a’s’. But that hasn’t stopped my SIL from correcting me on how to pronounce my own daughter’s name: “It’s ChristineAH”, not “ChristineER”.

Oy vey. Know what the best thing about my Brooklyn accent is? When I get mad or angry, it comes out in my controlled and restrained intonations. It doesn’t take the recipient who can hear me, long to get the message loud and clear. Give me what I want and there will be no trouble. People politely back down and give me the heck of whatever I want. Now, that’s power. No. That’s being born and bred in Brooklyn, NY. You don’t mess with people from Brooklyn.

Now, I’m going into my kitchen and pouring myself a nice big cup of ‘caw-fee’.

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6 comments

    • Florence, that’s because it’s a proud thing to be a Texan. Growing up, I knew having a Brooklyn accent was a very bad thing. It was considered low class, uneducated, gangster, mafia, the works! It still has a very bad connotation but *shrug* I really don’t care anymore. I’m none of the things Brooklyn was noted for. Which as far as I am concerned, the whole speech study I wrote about is faulted.

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  1. It is funny how things turn around. Now those with a New York borough accent are considered ultimately cool. I think this study found what it wanted to find. Their mommy is a hick—as all teens and young twenties believe.

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    • I’m hoping you don’t mean ‘this mommy’? ‘Cause I’m far from a hick. Thankfully, I raised my kids out of Brooklyn. They don’t have a NY accent at all. People always compliment me on their perfect speech. So, guess where they settled down when they graduated college? BROOKLYN!! Isn’t that the funniest?
      Go figure!
      Kids!

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