Have you ever noticed that people seem to find accents from people who live in other places in the world make that person more attractive? Particularly, Americans seem to have a fascination with foreign accents. Why is this?
Regardless of how a person speaks, their voice can definitely play a role in the relationships they form with people, particularly significant others. In fact, studies have found that when someone’s voice sounds great, we find them more physically attractive. In fact, a person’s voice also clues us in as to whether or not they’re honest, believe it or not.
British English and competence
But most of all, people have a tendency to think a foreign accent is “sexy” or more interesting, according to a psychotherapist from the U.K. who has lived in the United States for a long time. The psychotherapist, Guy Winch, notes that we tend to value things that are less common. Specifically, many Americans associate British accents with people being more sophisticated, more intelligent, and even more competent.
But is British English the “sexiest” language accent? Not quite. A study by Preply, an e-learning platform, found that one particular accent really gets a person’s heart beating faster. The institution wanted to find out which languages actually cause hearts to race faster, a common indicator of whether or not someone is attracted to another person. To do their study, Preply used heart-rate trackers on various participants and measured their heart rate increases while they listened to people speaking various languages.
Italian gets us hot and bothered
What was the sexiest and most attractive language, according to the study? Since French is supposedly the “language of love,” it would be easy to assume that it would be French that makes everyone’s heart speed up, but that’s not the case. The one that came out on top was Italian. When listening to people speak Italian, the heart rates of the participants increased by 23%. Next behind Italian was Portuguese, with heart rates increasing by 20%.
What makes a specific language attractive?
Aleksandra Stevanociv has a BA in Swedish Language and Scandinavian Literatures. A linguist and translator, Stevanovic explains that some languages, including Italian, are perceived to be easy for singing because they follow a one-vowel-one-consonant pattern. Because of this, every syllable ends with a vowel.
These differences literally make languages like Italian sound musical to the ears of human beings, and that’s part of why we perceive these languages to be more attractive.
By contrast, Stevanociv says, languages that have lots of different consonants stacked together are perceived as less musical. Some of these languages are German and other Slavic languages, which explains the poor ranking of Dutch, as explained below.
Which other languages speed up heart rates?
Other languages that made the top five were Russian, French, and Greek. Here is where they ranked:
- Hindi: Heart rates increased by 15%
- Korean: Heart rates increased by 17%
- German and Japanese: Heart rates increased by 15%
- Chinese and Polish: Heart rates increased by 17%
- Spanish: Heart rates increased by 18%
- Greek: Heart rates increased by 18%
- Russian: Heart rates increased by 18%
- French: Heart rates increased by 18%
The head of translation and localization at Meta, Jo Silverwood, points out that French is one of the sultriest languages. She says that it’s the “je ne said quoi” (translation: I don’t know what) that makes French sound so utterly charming. However, she questions whether or not it’s the actual language or the social and cultural connotations. People tend to associate the French with fine wines, stylish haute couture, and romantic landmarks in Paris.
Nevertheless, she points out, the phonemes of the French language do a good job of mimicking the sensual and husky hoarseness that people are attracted to.
The least unattractive language (according to the study)
The study showed that Dutch is the language that made participants less excited. When listening to Dutch being spoken, the heart rate of the participants increased by only 12%.