Non-native speech production II: Phonemic errors by position-in-word and intelligibility

Tessa Bent, Bruce Smith, Danielle Lodewyck, and Ann R. Bradlow

This study considered the distribution of non-native talker phonemic errors by position-in-word, and their differential effects on non-native speech intelligibility. Based on the structure of words in the native language of the talkers (i.e. Chinese), it was hypothesized that word-initial phonemes would be produced more accurately than word-final phonemes. Additionally, based on models of lexical access (e.g. cohort model), it was hypothesized that phonemic errors in word-initial position would be more detrimental to intelligibility than phonemic errors later in the word. Fifteen talkers of Chinese-accented English produced sixteen simple declarative sentences. These recordings were phonetically transcribed to determine the number and type of production errors and presented to native English listeners for intelligibility testing. Results showed that, as predicted, word-initial phonemes were produced more accurately (92% correct) than word-final phonemes (82% correct) (t(14) = 3.815, p<.01). Furthermore, word-initial singleton consonants and vowels correlated with intelligibility (Rho = .738, p<.01 and Rho=.692, p<.01 respectively). In contrast, initial and final consonant clusters, word-final singleton consonants, and within-word consonants were not significantly correlated with intelligibility. These results demonstrate that, for a variety of talker- and listener-related reasons, a phoneme’s position within the word exerts an important influence on both its production and perception.