linguistic follies

Anthea Fraser Gupta A.F.Gupta at
Tue Jul 24 07:50:42 UTC 2007

Re (Christopher Thomas):
"It is also hard work for even the best non-native speakers to understand other
non-native versions of English, whereas it is no great strain for the British
or Irish to decipher the various accents."

I don't know why or how this can be claimed. Time and again, it is the native
speaker who fails to understand or be understood by non-native speakers. NNS
are at least aware of the difficulties involved in communication that NS are
oblivious to. Is there any "good" research to definitively support either


Surprisingly few studies have been done on inter-accent intelligibility (and even fewer on face to face negotiation). You might be interested in a paper I did on this. Native/non-native was not an issue here (I did not ask what the listeners' native languages were). But the findings were robust. If anyone is interested in extending this study with other groups, I'll be happy to discuss it! 

2005. Inter-accent and inter-cultural intelligibility: a study of listeners in Singapore and Britain. In D Deterding, A Brown & E L Low (eds). English in Singapore: Phonetic research on a corpus. Singapore: McGraw-Hill Education (Asia), 138-152. [ISBN 007-124727] <>

	Interviews with two well matched speakers (a student from Singapore and a student from England) were played to hearers (students of English Language from Singapore and from England), who were asked to transcribe them into normal orthography. The transcriptions were scored for intelligibility of main content features, and accuracy. When listening to a familiar accent, all hearers were equally skilled, but when faced with an unfamiliar accent, hearers demonstrated a wide range of skills. It was not possible to say that one accent was intrinsically more intelligible than the other: both included features that would be challenging for a hearer unfamiliar with the accent. 


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Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr) 
School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT <> 
NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at 
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