Accent, power and persuasion

« previous post | next post »

If, like me, you're behind in streaming the latest crop of mini-series, you may need some help in decoding this SNL skit:

You could start with this 2/10/2022 NYT review of the Netflix series "Inventing Anna", and add Laura Bradley, "We Are Living in a Golden Age of Actors Doing Wild Accents", 3/5/2022:

Lately, it seems as though a new actor goes viral every other week with an uncanny (or just plain strange) accent. Some, like Amanda Seyfried’s virtuosic take on Elizabeth Holmes’ faux baritone in Hulu’s The Dropout, are bizarre by design. With some others… it’s harder to say.
Inventing Anna might be mostly a mess, but Garner’s performance is an elocution extravaganza — a chaotic feast for the ears that drives home the character’s confounding unknowability.

The actor detailed how she thought through the accent in an interview with W magazine. “Anna’s posing as a German heiress, but actually she’s Russian, so first I had to learn to speak in English with a proper German accent, and after that learn a slightly Russian accent to add underneath,” she said. “Then you have the element that she probably learned English from the Brits, because she’s European, but she’d also lived in America and loved to watch Gossip Girl. So the musicality of her speech was American.”

There's been a lot of research over the years on (the social construction of) accent evaluation — see e.g. "The beauty of Brummie", 7/28/2004, or Joe Fruewald on "America's ugliest accent', 10/1/2014. One epecially important area is research using  "matched guise" techniques. But I'm not aware of any systematic studies relevant to the question of accent efficacy in confidence tricks of various types.



  1. Kenny Easwaran said,

    March 6, 2022 @ 3:20 pm

    I hadn't heard of the show Inventing Anna until yesterday, when I saw a news report that the woman who it's about (currently in ICE custody awaiting deportation hearings) has filed suit against ICE alleging that they have denied her access to a second dose of vaccine, leading her to get covid during the omicron wave. Seems like an interesting character.

  2. Matt Sayler said,

    March 7, 2022 @ 3:32 pm

    "in _confidence tricks_ of various types"

    It looks like this is a duplicate link for matched guise.

  3. Thomas said,

    March 8, 2022 @ 6:31 am

    Having seen a few minutes of video interviews with the real Anna Sorokin on YouTube, I feel like the accent of the real Anna does not sound nearly as grotesque as the Netflix version of it. Either she has gotten rid of it to some extent or they wanted to exaggerate it into a caricature for the show.

    But then again, I am no native speaker and thus inherently bad at judging accents.

RSS feed for comments on this post