Social attitudes, intelligibility and comprehensibility: The role of the listener in the perception of non-native speech
Keywords:Intelligibility, comprehensibility, social attitudes, non-native speech, foreign accent
This study investigates the role of the listener in the perception of non-native speakers and their speech. Our goal is to examine the impact of listener characteristics on their attitudes towards non-native speakers and their speech. In addition, we aim to explore the relationship between listeners’ attitudes and the intelligibility, comprehensibility and perceived foreign accentedness of non-native speech. 126 participants living in Flanders, Belgium, completed a questionnaire probing their attitudes towards non-native speakers of Dutch. An analysis of background variables of these listeners revealed that their age, educational level, extent of contact with non-native speakers and especially political preference could predict their responses to questionnaire items. In a subsequent session, participants performed (a) a speaker/speech evaluation task, (b) a transcription task measuring intelligibility, and (c) a comprehensibility and accentedness rating task. This latter session required participants to transcribe and evaluate speech samples of Dutch produced by speakers of Mandarin Chinese. We found a significant correlation between comprehensibility and accentedness and a number of attitudinal dimensions, such as the perceived status of, and solidarity with, the speaker. The study has implications for language testing, as it demonstrates the impact of listeners’ social attitudes on the assessment of non-native speech.
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