Do you think you judge people on the basis of their dialect, and, more specifically, their regional accent1? Don’t worry I won’t judge! You probably think you don’t. However, subconsciously, you very well might! Think about it: maybe you think someone with a Limburgs (a Southern province in the Netherlands) accent sounds very hospitable or someone with a Gronings (a Northern province in the Netherlands) accent seems kind of surly. If that’s the case, you’re not the only one

It might not seem very nice that we judge people on the basis of their accent, but this is not per definition something bad. We form all kinds of ideas about other people and from the way they talk is just one way we do this. There’s a reason that a bitterbal (a Dutch delicacy) commercial uses people with a Limburgs accent, and a commercial about a salad using fresh veggies from the countryside uses people with a Twents accent. Consciously or subconsciously, we link accents to our ideas about people. The question is what these ideas, or attitudes, represent and which accent evokes which attitude. 

To research this, sociolinguists (linguists that focus on the social aspects of language) have been studying accents and language attitudes for decades. There are several ways to study this. You can explicitly ask people what they think about certain accents, but people don’t always answer honestly. Often, people hold back and answer in a socially desirable way. If I ask you if you think my pants are ugly (and let’s say they really are REALLY ugly) you won’t answer a loud YES, out of politeness. That’s why people study these attitudes a little more indirectly, for example, by studying if one accent sounds more or less trustworthy than another. 

A frame of a famous Bitterballen commercial that uses Limburgs accent.

I can hear you thinking – why do we want to know this? It can’t solely be relevant for bitterbal commercials? The answer is: definitely not – although I won’t deny that the commercials are a lot more effective on me due to the jolly Limburgs accent. We also want to map language attitudes to see how they are changing. If we better understand how language changes, we can adapt our governmental language policies so they are in alignment with current language usage. Next to this, language attitudes are an extension of our general opinions about people. Therefore, studying language attitudes can give us a better understanding about important social questions. This is very relevant in our current society, in which racism and discrimination still exist and are an important topic of research and policy.

A frame of a youtube video making irony of the Twents accent. The background stresses the agricultural tradition of the Twents’ region.
Original title: Nederlands : Grappig Twents Accent | Dutch : Funny Twents Accent

An interesting example of language and accent attitudes is that ten years ago, speakers with an accent from the “Randstad” were always judged very positively and with a high prestige. People also thought it was the perfect “standard” way to speak Dutch. Speakers with accents from the South of the Netherlands were judged quite negatively, but were still thought to be honest and fair. Speakers with accents from the North of the Netherlands were judged purely negatively2,3. While these results show that people definitely form an opinion about someone based on their regional accent, there are certain limitations to this type of research as accents were scored on very specific terms (like “honest”). It could therefore be that we are missing something about people’s attitudes towards certain accents. 

Luckily, it seems that we’ve become less harsh in our (sub)conscious judgments about regional accents in the Netherlands: it seems that “mild” accents are judged neutrally nowadays, so not any better or worse than another accent4.

Now the question is if this is the case due to the fact that we all indeed became more tolerant to different accents – which wouldn’t necessarily be strange given that we come into contact with more regional accents via television, social media and radio nowadays, or if we still have our original biases but are better at hiding them? I told you earlier that people tend to give answers that are socially desirable. We are also more and more aware of (sub)conscious discrimination. It could be that the people that participated in the newer research were aware that they might have some biases, which is not deemed a good thing by society, and therefore held back in their answers. 

Map of regional dialects in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg). The Limburgs accent is spoken in the Netherlands’ southeast (orange). The Hollandic is spoken in the Randstad, the region of the main Dutch industrial cities west of the country (light yellow).

For this reason, researchers want to dig deeper into people’s subconscious attitudes. This way we can truly discern if people are becoming more tolerant or are better at hiding their biases. However, how do you go about this? How can you research what people think about accents, without people realizing that is what you are studying? Unfortunately, I can’t give you a straightforward answer to this question yet. Researchers are hard at work developing new methods to do this 5.

One of these new methods looks at whether participants think one accent is more trustworthy than another accent 6. They don’t directly ask this, but rather ask participants to judge statements. Participants listen to certain statements and have to indicate whether they think the statement is true or not. The contents of the statements vary, from generally-known knowledge to relatively unknown, new knowledge. An example for unknown knowledge is “it rains diamonds on Saturn” (true) or “Saturn has 102 moons” (not true). Examples of generally known statements are “chickens lay eggs” and “bananas are blue“. I think you know which one is true and which one is not true there. In these experiments, these types of statements are voiced by people with different accents. Then, researchers look at whether or not the accents influence how often a statement is thought to be true by participants. It could, for instance, be the case that we think people with a Limburgs accent are more trustworthy than people with other accents. On the other hand, it could also be that we think that people with a “Randstad” accent are more trustworthy because we associate that accent with prestige and authority.

Interestingly enough, it seems that we in the Netherlands are indeed becoming more tolerant because, at the moment, researchers cannot find a difference in trustworthiness between different regional accents 5. Whether it’s the North, the South, or the Randstad, people often hesitate for a bit at unknown statements and respond very quickly to known statements. In contrast, in England, researchers using this method have found clear differences in attitude between different regional accents. It could be that, in England, they are a lot stricter with regard to what is judged to be standard English1. Apparently, trustworthiness can definitely be influenced by someone’s accent, but in the Netherlands, we’re not swayed by it.

In short, it seems that we in the Netherlands don’t judge people too harshly on the basis of how they talk, as long as their accent isn’t too strong. This does not mean that if you do have a strong accent you are automatically judged negatively, but it does impact how others view you.


  1. Adams, Z. (2019). The relationship between implicit and explicit attitudes to British accents in enhancing the persuasiveness of children’s oral health campaigns. Linguistics Vanguard, 5(s1). doi:10.1515/lingvan-2018-0008
  2. Grondelaers, S. (2013). 31. Attitude measurements in the Low Countries. In Dutch (pp. 586-602). De Gruyter Mouton.
  3. Grondelaers, S., van Hout, R., & Steegs, M. (2010). Evaluating Regional Accent Variation in Standard Dutch. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29(1), 101-116. doi:10.1177/0261927×09351681
  4. Grondelaers, S., van Hout, R., & van Gent, P. (2019). Re-evaluating the Prestige of Regional Accents in Netherlandic Standard Dutch: The Role of Accent Strength and Speaker Gender. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 38(2), 215-236. doi:10.1177/0261927×18810730
  5. Koemans, J. & Grondelaers, S. (2022). The truth of trivia: can a “wrong” accent overrule the valence of quiz questions? Oral presentation at the Sociolinguistics Circle conference, Leuven, Belgium.
  6. Rosseel, L. & Grondelaers, S. (2019). Implicitness and experimental methods in language variation research. Linguistics Vanguard. 5. 10.1515/lingvan-2018-0005.