The Effects of Rater-Specific Characteristics on the Rating of Foreign Accent



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This dissertation examines how rater-specific characteristics affect the rating of foreign accent in English. Previous studies have focused on the effects of speaker- specific characteristics on the rating of foreign accents (e.g., Munro & Derwing, 1995; Flege et al., 1999; Yeni-Komshian et al., 2000; Piske et al., 2001). However, recent studies (e.g., Kang, 2012; Schoonmaker-Gates, 2012; Weber & Pollman, 2010; Hayes- Harb et al., 2008; Huang & Jun 2015) have shown that rater-specific characteristics may also influence the rating of accented speech, but their precise influences are not well understood. Specifically, there are conflicting results regarding the effects of linguistic training of the raters (trained vs. untrained), the raters’ nativeness status (native vs. nonnative), and the nonnative rater-speaker shared L1 status (shared L1 vs. not shared L1) on the rating of foreign accent. Additionally, the relationship between the nonnative raters’ degree of accentedness and their ratings of other’s accented speech has not been previously explored. Accordingly, this dissertation’s primary focus is to investigate how these raters’ factors affect their accent rating. In particular, it examines whether trained and un-trained native raters differ in their rating behaviors, whether native and nonnative raters rate accented speech differently, whether nonnative raters rate speech from speakers sharing the same L1 background with them differently from speakers from a different L1 background, and whether nonnative raters are influenced in their foreign accent ratings as a result of their degree of foreign accent, self-reported L1 use, and length of residence (LoR) in an English-speaking country. In an online foreign accent rating experiment, trained and un-trained native English raters and naïve nonnative raters from Arabic and Mandarin L1 backgrounds rated the degree of foreign accentedness of 150 short English phrases extracted from the Speech Accent Archive (Weinberger, 2019) from native speakers and nonnative speakers from Arabic and Mandarin L1 backgrounds. Nonnative raters were also recorded reading a sample text, called the “Stella passage,” to assess their foreign accent. The results show that native English raters with linguistic training did not differ from un-trained native raters in their ratings of the degree of foreign accent and that their ratings were strongly correlated. As for the difference between native and nonnative raters, the results show that they differed in their rating behaviors. Overall, native raters always assigned lower accent ratings to all the speech samples than nonnative raters. However, in looking at the rater-speaker shared L1 status, an interesting pattern emerges. The results show that nonnative raters rated nonnative speech samples from different L1 backgrounds to have more foreign accent. In particular, while native raters and Arabic raters in the study rated Arabic-accented samples to have similar degrees of foreign accent, Mandarin raters rated Arabic-accented samples significantly differently from English and Arabic raters. Similarly, while native raters and Mandarin raters rated Mandarin-accented samples to have comparable degrees of foreign accent, Arabic raters rated the Mandarin- accented samples significantly differently from English and Mandarin raters. Additionally, the results show that nonnative raters’ degrees of foreign accent and self- reported L1 use did not significantly influence their ratings. However, raters’ LoR significantly affected their ratings, where raters with shorter LoR generally assigned lower accent rating scores than raters with longer LoR. These findings suggest that rater-specific characteristics, such as nativeness status and rater-speaker shared L1 status, can influence the rating of foreign accent, pointing to the complex nature of accent rating and the factors affecting it. This dissertation provides important implications for research on foreign accent rating, spoken language assessment, and language pedagogy. It also offers a foundation for further investigation of the rater- specific characteristics influencing foreign accent assessment, contributing to our understanding of speech perception more generally.