Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Perceived Foreign Accentedness: Acoustic Distances and Lexical Properties

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Perceived Foreign Accentedness: Acoustic Distances and Lexical Properties

Article excerpt

Published online: 19 May 2015

# The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract In this study, we examined speaker-dependent (acoustic) and speaker-independent (lexical) linguistic influences on perceived foreign accentedness. Accentedness ratings assigned to Chinese-accented English words were analyzed, taking accentedness as a continuum. The speakerdependent variables were included as acoustic distances, measured in relation to typical native-speaker values. The speakerindependent variable measures were related to the properties of individual words, not influenced by the speech signal. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this represents the first attempt to examine speaker-dependent and speakerindependent variables simultaneously. The model indicated that the perception of accentedness is affected by both acoustic goodness of fit and lexical properties. The results are discussed in terms of matching variability in the input to multidimensional representations.

Keywords Decision making . Speech perception . Psycholinguistics

Traditionally, nonnative speakers have been thought to have a foreign accent because they fail to produce native-like speech; that is, they do not produce second language (L2) speech sounds (or sequences of L2 speech sounds) as a native speaker would. The existing literature on foreign-accented speech indicates that a wide variety of variables may influence both the presence and the degree of foreign accent (Piske, MacKay, & Flege, 2001). Despite previous research, it is unclear which factors may affect the perception of gradient foreign accentedness.

Speaker-dependent variables such as age of L2 learning, length of residence in the target-language country, gender, formal instruction, motivation, language learning aptitude, and amount of continued native language (L1) use have been shown to influence a nonnative speaker's accent. As was indicated by Piske et al. (2001), both age of L2 learning and amount of continued L1 use appear to have the greatest effects on the degree of foreign accentedness. If foreign accent is indeed a failure to achieve native-like productions, factors such as age of L2 learning, instruction, and L1 use may capture other underlying articulatory and phonological properties. Speech sounds are produced by manipulating vocal articulators, and nonnative speakers may lack practice in making the necessary articulatory gestures in terms of both place and timing, thus resulting in a perceived accent (Flege, 1980). The phonology of a speaker's L1 may also influence his/her ability to produce nonnative phones by interfering with the speaker's ability to produce L2-specific phonetic detail. Speech sounds that are similar between the two languages appear to interfere with each other because the speaker may judge them to be acoustically different realizations of the same category (Flege & Hillenbrand, 1984). Additionally, the phonotactic rules of the speaker's L1 have been shown to affect accent in the L2; specifically, L2 sequences that align with the phonotactics of the speaker's L1 are judged to be less accented than those that do not (Park, 2013). Given this, nonnative productions indeed differ from native productions on a variety of temporal and spectral acoustic measures (Baker et al., 2011; Flege & Hillenbrand, 1984;Munro,1993; Wayland, 1997). Specifically, this research has shown that the word duration, vowel duration, voice onset time, and formant values in nonnative productions deviate from typical native speaker values.

Given the acoustic differences between nonnative and native productions, native listeners appear sensitive to them, and can detect the presence of an accent in as little as 30 ms of a burst release (Flege & Hillenbrand, 1984). Listeners seem to use this fine-grained acoustic information when rating the degree of foreign accentedness. A number of studies have shown that accentedness ratings (for various L1-L2 combinations) can be predicted by many of the acoustic variables discussed above (Munro, 1993; Porretta & Tucker, 2012;Wayland, 1997). …

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