Making Sense of Strange Sounds: (Mutual) Intelligibility of Related Language Varieties. A Review

Vincent J. Van Heuven

in Computing and Language Variation

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780748640300
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671380 | DOI:
Making Sense of Strange Sounds: (Mutual) Intelligibility of Related Language Varieties. A Review

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This chapter asks two questions, which superficially seem to ask the same thing but in actual fact do not. First, it asks to what degree two languages (or language varieties) A and B resemble each other. The second question is how well a listener of variety B understands a speaker of variety A. The chapter aims to predict from differences and similarities between two languages A and B how well listener B will understand speaker A. It wants to determine how well listener B understands speaker A. The intelligibility score is the only criterion against which the relative importance of linguistic dimensions can be gauged. It is the only reasonable criterion if we subscribe to the communicative principle underlying linguistic structure. This chapter initially focuses on the second question in order to use intelligibility as a criterion for weighing the different dimensions of linguistic distance. It then considers factors that influence intelligibility and discusses word recognition, functional testing versus opinion testing, ceiling effects, perceptual assimilation of strange sounds, prosody, stress, and lexical tone.

Keywords: language varieties; languages; intelligibility; strange sounds; prosody; word recognition; ceiling effects; functional testing; opinion testing; lexical tone

Chapter.  10928 words. 

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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