Accents in context
Non-native and native listeners’ perceptions and understanding of Dutch-accented English
The worldwide increase in use of English by various non-native English speakers is a new linguistic reality which might affect how both native and non-native English speakers perceive and understand non-native Englishes. Traditionally, second language acquisition research has been focused on the language production by learners of languages, how non-native language production differs from native language production, and how non-nativeness can hinder effective communication. Some linguists argue that the position of English as a global lingua franca challenges this perspective. They believe that a lingua franca English speech community has emerged consisting of non-native English speakers who are able to understand different varieties of non-native Englishes and do not view non-nativeness as a barrier to successful interactions. In order to contribute to this discussion, this thesis aims to understand whether Dutch-accented English, compared to native English accents, impacts listeners’ speech understanding and their perceptions of speakers.
Three studies were conducted in which the effect of Dutch-accented English was compared to the effect of native English accents, namely a standard British accent (studies 1, 3, 4) and a standard American English accent (studies 3 and 4). The second study was conducted to develop a reliable research method that allowed for the creation of representative matched guises for studies 3 and 4. In studies 3 and 4, the listeners responded to the tested accents in three different communication contexts: a lecture, an audio tour, and a job pitch.
The results suggest that contrary to native speakers, non-native speakers are not hindered in terms of speech understanding by non-native English accents, even if they are not familiar with that particular non-native accent. In addition, if the intent is to evoke positive perceptions in non-native listeners, being a non-native English speaker with a non-native English accent may actually be more beneficial compared to having a standard, native English accent. These findings offer new perspectives on the need for non-native speakers of English to acquire a native-like accent and the potential existence of an international lingua franca English speech community. Furthermore, communication context significantly impacted speech understanding and speaker evaluations, which suggests that breakdowns in communication between speakers of English with various language backgrounds should not solely be evaluated in terms of speakers’ language skills, but should also be analyzed in relation to communication context.
This thesis may be of interest to professionals and researchers working on second language acquisition and education, sociolinguistics, accentedness, English as global language and lingua franca, and English in the Netherlands.