Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Effects of Accent and Age on the Transcription of Medically Related Utterances: A Pilot Study

Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Effects of Accent and Age on the Transcription of Medically Related Utterances: A Pilot Study

Article excerpt

This pilot study investigated the effect speaker language and participant age had on the transcription of medically related utterances. Utterances were produced by native and non-native English speakers. Sixty adults across three age groups participated. Measures of total number of words correct indicated participants had significantly higher scores on items produced by the native English speaker compared to the nonnative English speakers. Young adults had statistically significant higher scores compared to the other age groups. Findings from this study indicate that the presence of an accent and the age of the listener may affect accurate transcription of medically related utterances.

With an increase in both the number of elderly adults in the United States and the number of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) individuals, it can be expected these two segments of the population will interact with increasing frequency. The likelihood exists that many CLD individuals will be nonnative English speakers (NNSs) who have accented speech. NNSs often find employment in health-care fields. Recent reports note that at least 30% to 40% of direct-care staff in health-care facilities in the United States are from different countries and cultural backgrounds, whereas 90% of the patients in these facilities are native English-speaking Euro-American individuals (Santo Pietro & Ostuni, 2003).

Characteristics of both these population segments can contribute to difficulty in communicating with one another. For the aging population, several physiological changes can affect the ability to communicate effectively with others. Aging adults may experience declines in attention, working memory, hearing, and speech perception. Attention can be divided into many subtypes, with at least two of these subtypes, divided attention and selective attention, noted to have age-related declines when stimuli are complex or additional irrelevant stimuli are present (Hooker & Shifren, 1995). Working memory--the ability to temporarily hold and manipulate information for a short period of time--also has age-related declines for input that is lengthy or complex, indicating a possible slowing in the cognitive processing of linguistic information (Connor, 2001; Salthouse, 1994; Wingfield, 1998). Many older adults develop presbycusis, an age-related, progressive, bilaterally symmetrical sensorineural hearing loss (Marshall, 1981) that often adversely affects high-frequency sounds (Helfer, 1995). Reduced speech perception also occurs (Nerbonne, 1988); older adults indicate they are unable to understand speech despite being able to hear it (Garstecki & Erler, 1997). To compensate for hearing and speech perception declines, top-down processing can be utilized to allow listeners to make use of supporting context to decode messages (Wingfield, 1998). For example, the understanding of key words is often used to facilitate comprehension of an entire message. A reduction in attentional abilities and working memory coupled with an increase in the time needed to encode and retrieve information does not always allow older adults to be efficient in using supporting contexts (Wingfield, 1998). They may not be able to accurately pick up the key words or they may be unable to adequately recall the overall message. Thus, although top-down processing strategies can aid comprehension in the aging population, the resources needed for attention and working memory may still limit older adults' effective use of these strategies (Wingfield, 1998).

NNSs have speech characteristics that may impede communication with native English speakers. Accented speech can be defined as speech differing from the pronunciation norms of native speech (Munro & Derwing, 1995). Many individuals who learn a second language, especially those who learn one in their adult years, display some form of an accent in their speech (Munro & Derwing, 1995). Often, the later the language learner begins to speak another language, the stronger the accent will be (Flege & Liu, 2001). …

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