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Volume 8 Number 4, Winter 2011, Pages 1-248   

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Judgments of Intelligibility and Foreign Accent by Listeners of Different Language Backgrounds

    Hsueh Chu CHEN

The major goals of this study were (a) to investigate multiple aspects of English phonological patterns spoken by Chinese speakers with different dialect backgrounds, (b) to explore non-native speakers' (NNSs') perceptual judgments of the intelligibility of Chinese- accented English, and (c) to examine the effects of the listener's language background on their perceptions of Chinese-accented speech. One Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong and one Mandarin speaker from Taiwan were recruited to read and record an English text. Twenty-nine listeners of various language backgrounds were separated into five groups: native Cantonese (n = 5) native Mandarin (n = 5), native English (n = 5), ESL (n = 10), and EFL (n = 4). They were requested to transcribe the test utterances in a self-paced speech recognition task and judge the intelligibility and the strength of the foreign accent. The results showed that all groups perceived both the Cantonese and Mandarin accents to be at least 70% intelligible. Mandarin-accented English was easier to understand than Cantonese-accented English was. The ESL group (including Filipino and Pakistani native speakers) and the Cantonese group performed worse than the other three groups. In comparing the two foreign-accented speeches, the listeners perceived consonant cluster simplifications and consonant substitutions in both accents. In Cantonese-accented speech, several word-stress shifts and double primary stresses evidently made words unintelligible. The listeners' perceptual judgments of Cantonese and Mandarin accents yielded a disfavour rating for both. Among all listeners, the ESL group demonstrated a higher degree of agreement on intelligibility and the strength of accents. The native English-speaker group and Chinese-speaker group gave the lowest ratings to the two accents, demonstrating strict native English norms.

Keywords: World Englishes, intercultural communication, pronunciation teaching