Rubén Pérez-Ramón (University of the Basque Country), María Luisa García Lecumberri (University of the Basque Country), Martin Cooke (Ikerbasque, University of the Basque Country)
Foreign accent has different effects on speech intelligibility for native and non-native listeners. However, not much is known about the impact of individual foreign-accented segments on listeners with different levels of proficiency in the language. Using a technique developed to generate degrees of segmental foreign accent, this study investigates how native and non-native listeners differing in language proficiency categorise and discriminate degrees of accentedness at the segmental level. Listeners responded to continua ranging from Spanish-accented tokens to English tokens, constructed by inserting accented segments into words. Six continua were chosen, based on known problems faced by Spanish speakers of English. Whether foreign accent categorisation performance differed across native and non-native listeners was found to depend on the status of the segment in the listeners' first language. For certain sounds both high and low proficiency non-native groups resembled native listener responses. For other sounds, categorisation revealed a clear effect of proficiency, with the high-proficiency group closer to native performance than the low proficiency cohort. This behaviour indicates an ongoing process of new second language phonemic category creation by the more proficient learners.