Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Disentangling accent from comprehensibility*


The goal of this study was to determine which linguistic aspects of second language speech are related to accent and which to comprehensibility. To address this goal, 19 different speech measures in the oral productions of 40 native French speakers of English were examined in relation to accent and comprehensibility, as rated by 60 novice raters and three experienced teachers. Results showed that both constructs were associated with many speech measures, but that accent was uniquely related to aspects of phonology, including rhythm and segmental and syllable structure accuracy, while comprehensibility was chiefly linked to grammatical accuracy and lexical richness.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Pavel Trofimovich, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H3G
Hide All

This research was made possible through grants from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture, and Sir James Lougheed Award of Distinction. We are grateful to Hyojin Song, Yvette Relkoff, Cassandre McLean Ikauno, Margaret Levey, Kathryn MacFadden-Willard, Fabrizio Stendardo, Garrett Byrne, and Joseph Hartfeil for their help with data analyses, and to Tracey Derwing and Murray Munro for sharing some of their testing materials. We also thank Ron Thomson, Carolyn Turner, Sarita Kennedy, and four anonymous BLC reviewers for their helpful input and feedback on the content of this manuscript.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

D. Albrechtsen , B. Henriksen , & C. Færch (1980). Native speaker reactions to learners’ spoken interlanguage. Language Learning, 30, 365396.

J. Anderson-Hsieh , R. Johnson , & K. Koehler (1992). The relationship between native speaker judgments of nonnative pronunciation and deviance in segmentals, prosody, and syllable structure. Language Learning, 42, 529555.

C. G. Clopper , & D. B. Pisoni (2004). Some acoustic cues for the perceptual categorization of American English regional dialects. Journal of Phonetics, 32, 111140.

T. M. Derwing (2003). What do ESL students say about their accents? The Canadian Modern Language Review, 59, 547566.

T. M. Derwing , M. J. Munro , & R. I. Thomson (2008). A longitudinal study of ESL learners’ fluency and comprehensibility development. Applied Linguistics, 29, 359380.

T. M. Derwing , M. J. Rossiter , & M. Ehrensberger-Dow (2002). “They speaked and wrote real good”: Judgements of non-native and native grammar. Language Awareness, 11, 8499.

T. M. Derwing , M. J. Rossiter , M. J. Munro , & R. I. Thomson (2004). Second language fluency: Judgments on different tasks. Language Learning, 54, 665679.

E. Dupoux , S. Peperkamp , & N. Sebastián-Gallés (2001). A robust method to study stress “deafness”. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 110, 16061618.

J. M. Fayer , & E. Krasinski (1987). Native and nonnative judgments of intelligibility and irritation. Language Learning, 37, 313326.

J. A. Foote , A. K. Holtby , & T. M. Derwing (2011). Survey of the teaching of pronunciation in adult ESL programs in Canada, 2010. TESL Canada Journal, 29, 122.

S. Gass , & E. Varonis (1984). The effect of familiarity on the comprehensibility of nonnative speech. Language Learning, 34, 6589.

L. D. Hahn (2004). Primary stress and intelligibility: Research to motivate the teaching of suprasegmentals. TESOL Quarterly, 38, 201223.

T. Isaacs (2008). Towards defining a valid assessment criterion of pronunciation proficiency in non-native English speaking graduate students. Canadian Modern Language Review, 64, 555580.

T. Isaacs , & P. Trofimovich (2010). Falling on sensitive ears? The influence of musical ability on extreme raters’ judgments of L2 pronunciation. TESOL Quarterly, 44, 375386.

O. Kang (2010). Relative salience of suprasegmental features on judgments of L2 comprehensibility and accentedness. System, 38, 301315.

O. Kang , & D. L. Rubin (2009). Reverse linguistic stereotyping: Measuring the effect of listener expectations on speech evaluation. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 28, 441456.

O. Kang , D. Rubin , & L. Pickering (2010). Suprasegmental measures of accentedness and judgments of language learner proficiency in oral English. The Modern Language Journal, 94, 554566.

S. Lev-Ari , & B. Keysar (2010). Why don't we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 10931096.

J. M. Levis (2005). Changing contexts and shifting paradigms in pronunciation teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 39, 369377.

J. M. Levis (2006). Pronunciation and the assessment of spoken language. In R. Hughes (ed.), Spoken English, TESOL and applied linguistics: Challenges for theory and practice, pp. 245270. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

C. L. Mallows (1964). Some comments on Cp. Technometrics, 15, 661675.

M. J. Munro (2003). A primer on accent discrimination in the Canadian context. TESL Canada Journal, 20, 3851.

M. J. Munro , & T. M. Derwing (1994). Evaluations of foreign accent in extemporaneous and read material. Language Testing, 11, 253266.

M. J. Munro , & T. M. Derwing (1999). Foreign accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility in the speech of second language learners. Language Learning, 49, 285310.

M. J. Munro , T. M. Derwing , C. S. Burgess (2010). Detection of nonnative speaker status from content-masked speech. Speech Communication, 52, 626637.

D. M. Oppenheimer (2008). The secret life of fluency. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 237241.

F. Ramus , M. Nespor , & J. Mehler (1999). Correlates of linguistic rhythm in the speech signal. Cognition, 73, 265292.

R. Reber , & N. Schwarz (1999). Effects of perceptual fluency on judgements of truth. Consciousness and Cognition, 8, 338342.

G. C. Robinson , & I. J. Stockman (2009). Cross-dialectal perceptual experienced of speech-language pathologists in predominantly Caucasian American school districts. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 138149.

D. L. Rubin (1992). Nonlanguage factors affecting undergraduates’ judgments of non-native English-speaking teaching assistants. Research in Higher Education, 33, 511531.

K. E. Schairer (1992). Native speaker reaction to non-native speech. Modern Language Journal, 76, 309319.

J. Vaissière (1991). Rhythm, accentuation and final lengthening in French. In J. Sundberg , L. Nord & R. Carlson (eds.), Music, language, speech and brain (Wenner–Gren International Symposium Series 59), pp. 108120. London: Macmillan.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 10
Total number of PDF views: 66 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 298 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th March 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.