Various social networks reduce accent judgments

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image: Visual cues and the diversity of the listener’s social network can impact their ability to understand and transcribe sentences after listening to speech.
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Credit: Ethan Kutlu, University of Iowa

DENVER, May 24, 2022 – Everyone has an accent. But the intelligibility of speech does not depend solely on this accent; it also depends on the listener. Visual cues and the diversity of the listener’s social network can impact their ability to understand and transcribe sentences after listening to speech.

Ethan Kutlu of the University of Iowa will discuss this social phenomenon in his presentation, “Perception in Context: How Racialized Identities Impact Speech Perception,” taking place May 24 at 12:15 p.m. in the ‘Eastern United States at the 182nd meeting of the Acoustical Society of America at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel.

Kutlu and his team matched American, British and Indian varieties of English with images of white and South Asian faces. While the accents differed, they were all standardized to have the same basic intelligibility. They played these voices for listeners from a low-diversity (Gainesville, Florida) and high-diversity (Montreal, Quebec) environment.

“Racial and linguistic diversity in our social networks and in our surrounding environments impacts how we perceive speech. Encountering new voices and accents that are different from our own improves our ability to deal with speech that varies from ours,” Kutlu said. “We all have accents and accepting that doesn’t harm our own speech perception or that of others. On the contrary, it helps us all.”

A participant’s ability to transcribe sentences decreased, and they rated the voices as more accentuated whenever the speech was associated with a South Asian face – regardless of the English variety of the spoken word. Indian English associated with white faces was found to be heavily accented compared to British and American English.

However, these results varied considerably depending on the listener’s social network and geographic context. Participants from Montreal, residents of a bilingual city, were generally more accurate when transcribing speech. They didn’t change their judgments based on the faces they saw on screen.

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