Accent Identification in RP, CE, and GA By Native and Non-Native English Speakers

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Jonathan Reid


This study was conducted in order to determine various groups’ accuracy in identifying three major standard English accents. The main purpose of the experiment that was performed was to determine how well speakers familiar with these accents could tell them apart from other accents. It focused on comparing the test subjects’ recognition of Canadian English pronunciation with General American pronunciations. Received Pronunciation was used as a control as it is generally considered to differ much more from the standard North American varieties than they differ from one another.
Within North America, the 'standard' accents of Canada and the US are quite similar. So similar, that one of the experiment’s hypotheses is that that despite being identified by linguists as different, many native speakers of the two dialects would have difficulty telling the difference themselves. The differences in the features of Canadian English (CE) and General American (GA) have been identified and studied by linguists before, but what this experiment sought to determine was the degree to which speakers of these dialects could tell them apart purely through listening.
Canada is given some degree of stigma from the United States for its dialect, and has had fun poked at it for such Canadianisms as the use of 'eh?' and Canadian Raising- Americans will exaggerate the difference when illustrating it, saying “aboot” [ə'but] for about [əˈbʌʊt]. But how well can they perceive the difference when not already informed about the speaker's origins?
An online survey was prepared, with audio clips or words in isolation and sentences, spoken by speakers of GA, CE, and RP, specifically using words that exhibited features that vary between the accents. This allowed us to examine subjects’ degree of recognition with, and without prosody, and to analyze the degree to which prosody affects accent recognition. In order to better determine how prior exposure influences accent recognition, the subjects were broken down into three groups: Native speakers of Canadian English, native speakers of American English and ESL speakers who had had prior exposure to Canadian English.
One of the main findings of this experiment is that more than 80% of American respondents recognized their own national standard accent, and around 67% recognized the Canadian accent; while only 62% of the Canadian respondents recognized the Canadian accent accurately. Compared to Canadians, Americans were better at telling the North American varieties of spoken English apart.

Article Details

Session IV: Language and Culture
Author Biography

Jonathan Reid, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Moderator: Ms. Sylvia Andrychuk, Librarian

Faculty Supporter: Dr. Anastasia Riehl