"Would you like RED or WHITE wine? - I would like red WINE": Native speaker perception of (non-)native intonation patterns

L.J. van Maastricht, M.G.J. Swerts, E.J. Krahmer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterOther research output


The importance of intonation in communication cannot be denied (Gussenhoven, 2004; Ladd, 2008). Since the goal of most foreign language learners is to successfully communicate in a language other than their mother tongue, more research on the way they are perceived by native speakers and the role of intonation in these interactions in highly relevant. For one, the correct use of pitch accents in the marking of information status is essential in many languages. For instance, in Dutch the answer "I would like red WINE" (pitch accent on the last word) would be confusing if the question was "Would you like RED or WHITE wine?", but not if the question was "Would you like red WINE or BEER?". Thus the use of an inappropriate intonation pattern may lead to miscommunication or incomprehensibility, or make interaction between communication partners more cumbersome, both in the processing of the speech (Munro & Derwing, 1999; Terken & Nooteboom, 1987; Van Leeuwen et al., 2014), and in the perceived ease of communication (Mennen, 2007). Previous research has shown that foreign language learners often transfer intonational features from their native language (L1) to any consequent language(s) they acquire (here L2) (e.g. Mennen, 2004; Swerts & Zerbian, 2010; Rasier & Hiligsmann, 2009). This is caused by the fact that the L1 and the L2 are often typologically different and so their speakers use different prosodic cues to mark focus. For example, in Dutch, new information receives a pitch accent, whereas given information usually does not (e.g., blauwe ezel, RODE ezel, 'blue donkey, RED donkey'). Yet, in Spanish the last word of the intonational phrase generally carries the pitch accent, irrespective of the information status of this ele- ment (e.g., globo rojo, burro ROJO, 'balloon red, donkey RED'). Van Maastricht, Krahmer, & Swerts (2014), who compare the pitch accent distributions produced by L1 and L2 speakers of these two languages, show that Spanish learners of Dutch as well as Dutch learners of Spanish generally transfer the pitch patterns of their L1 to their L2, especially if they are less experienced. These transfer effects found in L2 production of intonation led to the current study on the perception of L2 intonation. It aims to determine whether, since L2 speakers make a comparatively less adequate use of pitch accent distribu- tions than natives do, Dutch natives also have more difficulty processing the speech of Spanish learners of Dutch than the speech of Dutch natives. If so, a follow-up question is whether the proficiency level of the L2 speakers influences the perception process, as is the case in the production of pitch accents. Subsequently, a reaction-time (RT) task was conducted in which 41 Dutch participants were shown series of pictures of different objects in varying colors and, as the objects appeared on the screen from left to right, participants heard a description of the object and its color in Dutch (e.g. blauwe ezel, 'blue donkey'). They then indicated whether the utterance heard for the fourth picture in the series corre- sponded to what they saw on the screen by pushing a button. RTs were measured (in ms.) from the ap- pearing of the fourth picture and, simultaneously, the start of the utterance, until the participant pressed a button. Stimuli utterances were produced by four native speakers of Dutch with adequate pitch accent distributions, four Dutch natives with non-native, reversed, pitch accent distributions, four less experienced Spanish learners of Dutch (using Spanish pitch accent distributions), and four experi- enced Spanish learners of Dutch (in between Dutch and Spanish pitch accent distributions). Preliminary analyses by means of a repeated measures ANOVA show that there is an effect of na- tive language on RTs [F(3,120)=850.21, p<0.001]. It takes Dutch natives significantly longer to process Dutch spoken by Spanish natives than Dutch spoken by Dutch natives. Surprisingly, there is no signifi- cant difference between the RTs for items produced by Dutch natives using correct pitch accent distri- butions (M=798.49; SD=103.90) versus Dutch natives using non-native pitch accent distributions (M=797.85; SD=95.52). This may reflect a floor effect; the task may have been to easy for Dutch na- tives when the utterance was spoken by a Dutch native, irrespective of the intonational accuracy. Addi- tionally, RTs are significantly longer (p<0.001) when with stimuli are produced by less experienced L2 learners (M=990.95; SD=89.77), than with items produced by experienced L2 learners (M=934.73; SD=85.70). This suggests that as the speech deviates more from the native norm, adequate accent placement is more important for RTs. However, the current design makes it impossible to differentiate between the effect of segmental deviances ('foreign accent') and the effect of prosodic deviances on the intelligibility of the stimuli. Therefore, a follow-up study has been set up that controls for the segmental factors in foreign speech while varying the pitch accent distributions. Results of this experiment will be presented at the conference. References Gussenhoven, C. (2004). The phonology of tone and intonation. Cambridge University Press. Ladd, R. (2008). Intonational phonology (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. Maastricht, L. van, Krahmer, E., & Swerts, M. (n.d.). Acquiring native-like intonation in a second lan- guage: transfer from Dutch to Spanish and vice versa. Manuscript in preparation. Mennen, I. (2004). Bi-directional interference in the intonation of Dutch speakers of Greek. Journal of Phonetics 32(4), 543-563. Mennen, I. (2007). Phonological and phonetic influences in non-native intonation. In Trouvain, J. and Gut, U. (Eds.) Non-native Prosody: Phonetic Descriptions and Teaching Practice (pp. 53-76). Mouton De Gruyter. Munro, M., & Derwing, T. (1999). Foreign accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility in the speech of second language learners. Language Learning 49(1), 285-310. Rasier, L., & Hiligsmann, P. (2009). Exploring the L1-L2 Relationship in the L2 Acquisition of Prosody. Online proceedings of the international conference First and second languages: exploring the relationship in pedagogy-related contexts, http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/ RasierHiligsmann.doc, consulted on January 16, 2013. Swerts, M., & Zerbian, S. (2010). Intonational differences between L1 and L2 English in South Africa. Phonetica 67(3), 127-146. Terken, J., & Nooteboom, S. (1987). Opposite effects of accentuation and deaccentuation on verifica- tion latencies for given and new information. Language and Cognition Processes 2(3-4), 145-163. Van Leeuwen, T., Lamers, M., Peterssond, K., Gussenhoven, C., Rietvelde, T., Posera, B., et al. (2014). Phonological markers of information structure: An fMRI study. Neuropsychologia, http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.03.017, consulted on April 25, 2014
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2014
EventTone and Intonation in Europe 2014 - Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 10 Sep 201412 Sep 2014


ConferenceTone and Intonation in Europe 2014

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of '"Would you like RED or WHITE wine? - I would like red WINE": Native speaker perception of (non-)native intonation patterns'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this