The Matched-Guise Test is a method of investigation for obtaining individual reactions to types of speech. The technique allows researchers to focus purely on assessing the reaction of a subject to one particular form of speech, without this reaction being influenced by other factors (Downes 1998: 174).
The process uses speakers who are able to speak two dialects or are bilingual (i.e. two guises), depending on the aims of the investigation. Two separate recordings are made of each speaker who reads a prepared text aloud in both guises. The recordings are later played in a random order to subjects who are each given a questionnaire and are asked to judge the speakers, in terms of personality and character, based purely on the guises they hear. However, the subjects are unaware that each speaker has in fact spoken twice and therefore assume that they are judging a different speaker each time. In this way, the content of the text and the speaker can be kept the same throughout the test and the only variable factor is the different guise used (Wardhaugh 1992: 113).
Indirect techniques such as the matched-guise test supposedly permit a higher degree of introspection and ‘privacy’ for the person interviewed (Lambert, 1967), ideally producing more ‘spontaneous’ and sincere responses. However, there are doubts as to whether such accuracy is actually achieved.
The matched-guise technique was developed and pioneered by Wallace Lambert et al. (1960) to evaluate the reactions of Montreal residents towards both French-speakers and English-speakers. Interestingly, the results of this initial investigation showed that as expected the Canadian English-speakers evaluated the Canadian French guises less favourably, but the Canadian French-speakers also attributed the Canadian French guises with less positive characteristics, which is surprising.
Lambert continued to implement the matched-guise technique for further investigations. Some did not involve different languages, but different accents, such as in finding out how people evaluated English speakers with and without a Jewish accent (Anisfeld 1962).
The same technique has been applied to English-speakers in the United Kingdom. In an investigation into assessing people’s varying reactions to London and Yorkshire accents (Strongman and Woosley 1967), the judges of the various guises were all students and were split equally into a “southern” and a “northern” group. The results, however, did not show much variation in the judges’ attitudes towards the accents.
The technique was later used to investigate the perception of Scottish and English accents in the United Kingdom (Cheyne 1970) and of Welsh and Somerset accents with regard to received pronunciation (Giles 1971).
The matched-guise test has since been used on many other countries for a range of other languages and dialects.
Lambert himself (1967) notes that the interviewees usually enjoy taking part in this test because they regard it as a game. Most language attitude studies that have used the matched guise technique have been conducted at schools or colleges.
Lambert (Gardner & Lambert, 1972) points out some of the limitations of his method:
Another aspect of this technique with negative connotations are its experimental features: the matched guise technique is usually used with groups in classrooms or laboratories and has thus been qualified as artificial or not very ‘natural’; Robinson (1978) also believes that experimental situations, by their nature, force individuals to provide an answer. Moreover, the use of oral stimulus material created for the experiment has increased scepticism about obtaining significant results with this technique (Tajfel, 1962; Lee, 1971; Robinson, 1972). Lee (1971) even suggests that repeating the message can mean that ‘judges’ focus on the linguistic features of the varieties used more than they would in a normal and unconditioned situation.
Moreover, this technique presupposes that the linguistic varieties evaluated have only one functional style (Agheyisi & Fishman, 1970). Thus, it is unable to explain the social meaning of speakers’ multistylistic capacity in different contexts or degrees of knowledge of the linguistic varieties evaluated. However, efforts have been made to improve the matched-guise test to cater for this (Howard & Bourhis 1976).