Page 11 - Summer 2018
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 Kenneth J. de Jong
Department of Linguistics Indiana University 1020 E. Kirkwood Avenue 859 Ballantine Hall Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
Sensitivity to Foreign Accent
Listeners are extraordinarily sensitive to acoustic detail in the speech of nonnative speakers.
Research on the acoustics of the speech of nonnative speakers shows how extraor- dinarily sensitive listeners are to the very subtle details of speech patterns. When we hear a person speaking, we very rapidly not only hear what the speaker is say- ing but also are cognizant of many other attributes of the speaker: whether male or female, emotional state, whether the speaker has a cold, and whether the speaker is a native member of our own speech community. This article reviews a variety of work on the perception of whether a person is a native speaker or not and points out the remarkable sensitivity that the listeners have to information about accent. From research in perceiving the native quality of speech, we might say that speech acoustics not only captures our attention as scholars but also captures the rapt at- tention of everyone.
The obvious reason for this attention is that the acoustic medium enables us to communicate so that we are able to share our thoughts and intents with other individuals. People rapidly and efficiently encode their intents in speaking, and this fact invites us to think of the acoustic signal as a repository of information about the source of the acoustic signal, the speaking individual. Examined from this perspective, the speech research one finds at meetings of the Acoustical So- ciety of America (ASA) highlights the complexity of such acoustical phenomena. Speech signals are very rapid but are also defined by a complex and intercollated matrix of information. Some of this information tells us about the physics of the person speaking, for example, individuals with shorter mouths and pharynges emit higher frequency resonances than individuals with longer ones. Other parts of this information encode the intent of the individual. This information in speech is governed by a set of shared expectations that the individuals have about how to communicate, that is, this information is governed by their shared language.
Most striking in a perusal of the volumes of abstracts from the ASA meetings over the past 20 years is the large number of contributions examining one particular problem in speech acoustics, second language acquisition (SLA). As SLA research has grown, we have found that the act of speaking is a remarkable feat of motor control. Most speakers are virtuosos in playing the complex scores dictated by our languages, performing rapidly and apparently effortlessly the exacting dictates of many small gestures of the tongue, lips, and larynx. In light of this, multilingualism is even more surprising. It is surprising that individuals can perform these feats of motor control at will and according to the dictates of two different systems of en- coding. They have two, very similar sets of skills for rapidly encoding intents that are tailored to different sets of expectations by different language communities.
This article presents some of what has been learned about speech and language through cases in which an individual is not entirely successful at encoding speech in one language because that language was learned later in life and skills were tai- lored according to the criteria of another language. This variance from what a lan- guage group expects goes by a name, foreign accent. One other thing to note from
©2018 Acoustical Society of America. All rights reserved. volume 14, issue 2 | Summer 2018 | Acoustics Today | 9

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