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“I’m Afraid the Apartment Is Already Taken, Ms Gülbeyaz.”

A study by Bremen linguist Inke Du Bois has already attracted international attention: students called landlords in four Bremen districts and spoke to them with a Turkish accent, an American accent, and High German pronunciation. However, not all of them received an apartment viewing.

“Sprachliche Diskriminierung quer durch Stadtteile: Türkische, US-amerikanische und deutsche Namen und Akzente bei der Suche nach städtischen Wohnungen” (linguistic discrimination across neighborhoods: Turkish, American, and German names and accents in the search for urban apartments) is the title of the study written in English by Inke Du Bois. With 300 telephone calls, her students responded to apartment offers in Gröpelingen, Walle, Tenever, and Schwachhausen. “We set mandatory standards and trained systematically beforehand,” says the lecturer in English. For example, when asked, the callers pretended to be single nurses with the same income. The conduct of the conversation was also fixed. As were the names: The Turkish women contacted landlords or brokers and used the name Ayse Gülbeyaz, the Germans used Lena Meyer, and the Americans used Alice McGraw.

Great Fun with Research

“My students had a lot of fun with this research work, they actively produced important results, and contributed to a larger project,” notes the linguist. During the phone calls, the callers kept research diaries. “It goes without saying that I presented the project to the university’s ethics committee and received approval,” she says. “If the apartment viewing was positive, we also declined the apartment in good time so as not to let anyone wait for no purpose.”

Exciting Question: What Was the Result?

The students called the landlords and brokers within an hour and spoke to them with different accents. And lo and behold: even though an apartment had already been reserved for a Turkish woman, the German nurse was still given an appointment a little later. The scientific analysis of the test results showed inner-city differences: In the prestigious area of Schwachhausen, callers with a Turkish accent had significantly less chance of arranging an apartment viewing. Only 23.5 percent of them received an appointment, while 94.7 percent of Germans were able to view an apartment. In general, the German callers received the most viewing appointments in all parts of the city except Tenever, where the percentage of callers with a Turkish or American accent who were given an appointment was only slightly below the percentage of German callers.”

Names Activate Prejudice

“My study should reveal that many people have unconscious prejudices that are quickly activated by hearing names and accents alone,” says Inke Du Bois. She is part of a research network with the University of Sheffield, where similar research has been conducted. Together with her colleague there, Nicole Baumgarten, the linguist from Bremen received a research prize of 50,000 euros from the British Academy. Her subject area is sociolinguistics and she already wrote her doctoral thesis on this field. The research results from Bremen and Sheffield will appear in the English Journal of Language and Discrimination this autumn.

Friendly Landlords

“I hope that positions will gradually change and that our society will not exclude migrants,” says Dr. Du Bois. “There were also landlords and brokers who reacted very nicely to the single Turkish women. That’s a good sign.”


Dr. Inke Du Bois
English-Speaking Cultures
Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Studies
University of Bremen
Tel.: +49 421 218-68187
Mobile: +49 176 49761507



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