Nativeness if (s)he is an NS (Derwing







and Intelligibility in Pronunciation Assessment: A Saudi Context


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1.   Literature Review

1.1.  Nativeness
and Intelligibility in Pronunciation Research

According to
Levis (2005) and echoed by Harding (2017), teaching and, by extension,
assessing second language (L2, henceforth) pronunciation can be characterized
as the tension between two ‘contradictory principles’
— ‘nativeness’ and ‘intelligibility’. The nativeness principle posits
that nativelike (or unaccented) pronunciation is both a primary goal of pronunciation
learning and a standard for pronunciation assessment. However, the
intelligibility principle holds that the chief goal of pronunciation learning
is for learners to be understood by their interlocutors, and consequently intelligibility,
instead of nativeness, emerges as an appropriate assessment criterion. The
nativeness principle has held a strong position in pronunciation teaching and
assessment for a long time.

 However, it has regularly been criticized by
pronunciation experts and applied linguists for reasons such as the
impracticality of attaining a native-speaker (NS, henceforth) accent for most
learners (Jenkins, 2000; Munro & Derwing, 2011; Singleton, 2005), with some
learners speaking the L2 with a strong foreign accent even after years of L2
immersion and only very few advanced learners being able to sound nativelike
(Abrahamsson & Hyltenstam, 2009; Moyer, 1999). Also, pronunciation is the
area of language with the largest individual variation in performance, compared
to grammar or vocabulary (Abrahamsson & Hyltenstam, 2009; Moyer, 1999),
where there is variation within native English varieties in segmental and
suprasegmental aspects of speech, especially in vowels (Lindemann, 2017), thus, this leads to the
problem of deciding on who should be considered an NS (Cook, 1999). Finally, there
is a concern that nativeness involves aspects of identity (Giles, 1979; Rindal,
2010; Walker, 2010), where learners may wish to retain identifiable traces of their national or
first language (L1, henceforth) identity when
they speak (Walker, 2010).1

This has
caused some scholars to suggest that speakers should develop their own distinct
variety of speech but with the focus on comprehensible output (Jenkins, Cogo, & Dewey, 2011). This is related to the
argument suggesting that what an L2 speaker needs is to be understood rather
than sounding as if (s)he is an NS (Derwing & Munro, 2009b; Isaacs, 2013).
This position is further supported by research indicating that a strong foreign
accent does not necessarily hinder intelligibility (Derwing & Munro, 1997; Derwing
& Munro, 2015; Munro and
Derwing, 1995; Munro
& Derwing, 1999). The claim suggesting that foreign accent can sometimes
hinder communication and lower intelligibility is associated with many
unconscious negative stereotypes (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010). The advantage
of intelligibility over nativeness is further supported by empirically
data showing that the two most widely taught English accents, RP (Received Pronunciation)
and GA (General American), are less intelligible to non-native speakers (NNS(s),
henceforth) than other NNS accents (Smith, 1992). Also, the heavy bias towards NS accents in
pronunciation teaching was described as conformity to NSs’ norms rather than
accuracy in creating a relationship between form and meaning (Willis, 1996). Lastly,
observation has shown that in one NS discourse plus one NNS discourse, both
participants modify their discourse, rather than one speaker behaving normally
and the other speaking like a foreigner (Riley, 1989, as cited in Jenkins, 2000).2

Ballard and
Winke (2017) investigated the interplay between speakers’ accent and
comprehensibility (degree of listeners’ understanding) and their acceptability
as EFL teachers, focusing on non-native listeners. The findings show that non-native
listeners do not seem to readily label accented speakers as unacceptable
teachers. Instead, listeners associate speakers’ acceptability as EFL teachers
with their perceptions of these speakers’ comprehensibility. These findings are
echoing previous work by Derwing and Munro (2009a), which showed a similar result
for non-native English speaking engineers in an English-medium workplace
setting. Overall, it may not be meaningful or reliable to talk about nativeness
as a measure of pronunciation. Instead, as many have argued, there is a need
for emphasis on intelligibility, which does not necessarily correlate with
perceptions of non-native accent (Munro & Derwing, 1995).

Linguistic Features Important for Intelligibility
(or Comprehensibility)

It used to be thought that
intelligibility was a one-way process where NNSs are trying to make themselves
understood while NSs have the prerogative to decide what is intelligible or not
(Bamgbose, 1988). However, this view is not any longer tenable despite being
held widely by NSs and many teachers of English (Jenkins, 2000), and by research
in the area of pronunciation comprehensibility and intelligibility (e.g.
Anderson-Hsieh, Johnson, & Koehler, 1992; Crowther, Trofimovich, Isaacs, & Saito, 2015; Derwing & Munro, 2009a;
Derwing, Munro, & Wiebe, 1998; Hahn, 2004; Isaacs
& Trofimovich, 2012; Kang, 2010; Kang, Rubin, & Pickering, 2010; Munro & Derwing, 1995; Munro & Derwing,
1999; Munro & Derwing, 2006; Pickering, 2001; Saito, Trofimovich, &
Isaacs, 2015; Winters & O’Brien, 2013; Zielinski, 2008).

According to studies such as
Smith (1992), and Smith and Nelson (1985), intelligibility is a complex issue
where an NS is not necessarily a perfect judge of what is intelligible or not,
nor is (s)he necessarily more intelligible than an NNS. Also, according to
Lindemann (2017), assessing intelligibility comes with its own challenges, and
does not eliminate the possible effects of bias against non-nativeness. Defining
non-native pronunciation as an error would promote a standard language ideology
(Lippi-Green, 2012), that privileges those whose language is viewed as standard
in spite of variation in that language, to the detriment of those who are not
viewed as standard speakers, in some cases based purely on their appearance.3

Consequently, some
test developers and researchers have explored other approaches. For example,
Brown and Lumley (1998, as cited in Jenkins & Leung, 2013) created a test
of English proficiency where the NS was not set as the ‘ideal’; they tried to
include appropriate local cultural content and English language usage. There was
also research by Harding (2012a) on the advantages of shared first language in
language testing. Harding examined whether test takers with a particular L1
background gain advantage when listening to English passages given in their own
accents. However, the use of English involves speakers from diverse
linguacultural backgrounds, including NSs and NNSs of English, hence this necessitates
the adoption of an alternative approach that considers this diversity.

The lingua franca approach aims
to accommodate this variation among L2 varieties, and, by extension, variation
across NS contexts which are themselves extremely diverse as a result of
migration and inequality, among other factors. We are all, to a large extent,
lingua franca users, even if we live in so-called monolingual environments
(Sewell, 2017). Marckwardt (1958,
as cited in Smith, 2015) suggested that NSs (not only NNSs) who speak different
varieties of English may not understand one another and should modify their
speech to communicate successfully. Furthermore, Field (2004, as cited in Sewell, 2017)
observed that a range of different ‘standard’ accents from around the world is
more appropriate than the uncritical adoption of ‘local’ accents. Therefore, the
lingua franca approach comes to prioritize adaptability and flexibility over
the ability to reproduce a predefined system, while at the same time it
recognizes the continuing importance of intelligibility. Also, if variation occurs
pervasively across interactions within native English and non-native English
varieties, this would suggest that such variation should be accepted, and there
would then be less relevance attached to whether this variation is accurately

A landmark text in the development
of the lingua franca approach to intelligibility was Jenkins (2000), one of the
first to study intelligibility in interactions between NNSs of English. Jenkins’s
use of the term ‘intelligibility’ was that of Smith and Nelson (1985); however,
she approached the term in the spirit of researchers such as Bansal and Ufomata
where, accordingly, successful communication is based on phonology, not only in
international contexts, but in intra-national ones as well. Bansal (1990)
identified a number of phonetic features which are inclined to affect the
intelligibility of spoken English in India, for example: lack of clear
articulation, vowel or consonant substitution, and accent on the wrong syllable.
Ufomata (1990) argued that mutual intelligibility is particularly related to
accent. Overall, Jenkins (ibid.) argued that intelligibility involves the
production and recognition of words and utterances and, particularly, the
ability to produce and receive phonological form. In the late
1980s Jenkins carried out a large-scale empirical research project to identify
which features of Received Pronunciation (RP) or General American (GA) were
necessary for intelligibility in ELF communication, and which were unnecessary
or even damaging to intelligibility. The data was acquired from NNSs of English
with a large number of first languages interacting with each other in a wide
range of contexts, both educational and social, and was analysed to identify
which intelligibility problems could be traced directly back to pronunciation.
The items that emerged as necessary for intelligibility she labelled the Lingua
Franca Core, or LFC.

According to Jenkins (2000), the first
to establish a phonological common core for mutual intelligibility was the
American linguist Hockett; however, his interest was only in communication
among NSs, and it was descriptive rather than prescriptive. Later, the
phonetician Bryan Jenner came up with a core that was motivated specifically by
providing a list of pronunciation teaching priorities that would guarantee
intelligibility for NNS learners of English. However, intelligibility is a
complex phenomenon and cannot be guaranteed by pronunciation alone (Jenkins,
2000). One more problem with Jenner’s core is his perspective towards the NS as
both producer and receiver of intelligible pronunciation.

According to Jenkins (2000), the
current phonological orthodoxy is that suprasegmental errors are of a major
effect on intelligibility while segmental errors are of a rather less serious
effect. However, those who hold such orthodoxy tend to perceive communication to
be between NNSs and NSs without considered the implications of ELF nor
conducting investigations to support their claims; plus, as far as teaching is
concerned, some aspects of English suprasegmental system are not teachable
(ibid.). Thus, the LFC seeks to create balance between suprasegmental and
segmental appropriate to ELF. 
The LFC4

As regards
segementals in the LFC, there are 24 consonant sounds in RP and GA in common
vital for phonological intelligibility; thus, elision or substitution of these
sounds cause a loss of intelligibility. However, there are two consonants of
the LFC entitled to substitution, the dental fricative pair /?/ and /ð/;
substitution of these phonemes do not lead to phonological unintelligibility.
The other omission from the LFC is related to a phonetic rather than phonemic
feature; it is the substitution of dark /l/ with regular substitutions such as clear /l/ or /?/. Where RP and GA differ, the GA rhotic
variant, the retroflex approximant ?, rather than the RP post-alveolar approximant ? is opted for in the LFC. However, the LFC
follows RP in terms of the consonant /t/, excluding its aspiration when it
occurs word-initially and its potential for elision when it occurs
word-finally, in contrast to the GA use of it where it becomes the voiced flap
? once it occurs
intervocalically. However, the LFC includes two phonetic features: the
aspiration ? following the fortis
plosives (/p/, /t/ and /k/) once they take place at the beginning of a stressed
syllable; and the shortening effect of the fortis consonants on a vowel sound
preceding them in contrast to the lenis consonants which maintain the length of
a preceding vowel sound.

Addition can sometimes be problematic to
intelligibility, especially in the case of epenthesis in a stressed syllable.
Consonant cluster simplification in the case of consonant deletion is more of a
threat to intelligibility, which is not considered elision since elision is
governed by rules in contrast to consonant deletion. The situation for
consonant cluster simplification is the same for both RP and GA except for the
intervocalic cluster ‘-nt-‘ when it occurs before an unstressed syllable, where
the core follows RP in which it does not allow for elision of the /t/ while GA
does. Overall, the LFC requires, as a rule, learners to produce consonant
sounds similar to those of the RP and GA rather than to imitate them.

There are
however two considerations as regards vowel sounds in the LFC: quality and
quantity; vowel quality is concerned with tongue and lip position while vowel
quantity is concerned with length. Vowel quality is fairly stable across
varieties of English while vowel quantity is not; however, whatever qualities
L2 speakers use, except the vowel sound /??/ in RP which must be
included, they must be consistent in using their preferred vowel qualities. As
regards vowel quantity, L2 speakers must manage length distinctions amongst
vowel sounds properly. The same argument holds good with diphthongs; the length
must be maintained and the quality must be used consistently regardless of
which qualities L2 speakers use.

As for suprasegmentals in
the LFC, word stress is not essential for the intelligibility of individual
words, but since it has implications for nuclear stress and sound
identification, the LFC recommends teaching it to learners but in the form of
general guidelines while minding the many exceptions of word stress rules.
According to the LFC, nuclear stress is the most important key to the speaker’s
intended meaning, whether unmarked (on the last content word in a word group)5
or contrastive (somewhere else); it is the salient part that indicates where
the listener should pay attention. Thus, English speakers should include one
nuclear syllable (although complex word groups include more than one nucleus)
in each meaningful unit (or chunk) of their utterances.  
Research Investigated the LFC Experimentally

There have
been remarkably few published replications of Jenkins’s original study perhaps partly
since pronunciation has always tended to be of less interest than other
linguistic levels among applied linguists and even English teaching
professionals, and perhaps partly since orientations towards English
pronunciation, more than to other linguistic levels, remain dominated by native
English language ideology (Jenkins, Cogo, & Dewey, 2011). The scholars who have
replicated the ELF pronunciation research have found that their findings
support those of Jenkins (e.g. Da Silva, 1998; Deterding, 2013, as cited in Sewell,
2017; Deterding & Kirkpatrick, 2006; Kirkpatrick, 2010; Osimk, 2009; Rajadurai,
2007). For
instance, the overall conclusion of Deterding’s corpus-based study was that the
most significant impact on intelligibility came from consonants, which is
consistent with the LFC proposals. There is also a study conducted by Zoghbor (2011) where she found similar
results out of comparing English learners’ performance following two different
syllabuses where one syllabus was based on the LFC, but her findings were

Pickering (2009) found results contradictory to the LFC where she produced
experimental evidence demonstrating that pitch cues may have a role to play in
ELF communication. Furthermore, Field (2005) have reached an opposite conclusion in terms
of Jenkins’s conclusion that word stress does not affect intelligibility. He gave
an example where the change of stress from the first to the last syllable in
the word second (i.e., “seCOND”) had reduced understanding in both native and
non-native listeners.    
Arguments for and against the LFC

to Jenkins (2009), the advantage of Lingua Franca Core is far more relevant to
ELF interaction contexts rather than approximating an NS’ accent; the LFC is meant for
communication on a global level rather than with NSs only.
The LFC is supposed to promote
better intelligibility among ELF interlocutors than many NS varieties. Also,
the LFC allows NNSs the same sociolinguistic rights as those enjoyed by L1
speakers by legitimating NNS accents (Jenkins, 2005; Jenkins, 2007), and thus maintaining
their social identity (walker, 2010). This can be explained by the
Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) (Giles & Coupland, 1991; Giles, Coupland,
& Coupland, 1991). Accordingly, people’s speech might change in keeping
with its setting, the topic of discourse, and the type of person involved. The
theory explains the way people accustom themselves to others during interaction
using three strategies: convergence, where individuals adopt to each other’s
communicative behaviours concerning a broad range of linguistic, prosodic, and
nonverbal features; divergence, where speakers emphasize speech and non-verbal
differences between themselves and others; and maintenance, where
interlocutors  preserve their speech
patterns and other communicative behaviours in order to maintain their group
identity (Giles et al., 1991). Thus, by using such speech adjustments, NNS
interlocutors evoke the addressee’s social approval, promote communicative
efficiency between interlocutors, and maintain positive social identity (Beebe
& Giles, 1984).

Kubota (2001), Wells (2005), and Yamaguchi
(2002) pointed out that even NSs modify their English and use simplified,
sometimes ungrammatical, speech leading to a register known as ‘Foreigner Talk’
to facilitate their communication. The purpose of referring to Foreigner Talk
is that what is required in ELF communication is to accommodate interlocutors
in the way NSs do it using Foreign Talk. Also, some empirical studies (e.g. Smith
& Nelson, 2006; Smith & Rafiqzad, 1979) have showed that NNSs might be
more intelligible to their NNS counterparts than NSs. However, there are some
studies that have found that NSs are easier to understand than NNSs (e.g. Bent
& Bradlow, 2003; Major, Fitzmaurice,
Bunta, & Balasubramanian, 2002).
But, for Matsuura, Chiba, and Fujieda (1999) and Rajadurai (2007), studies
revealing lower intelligibility ratings attributed to NNSs might be assigned to
factors other than NNS phonology: for example, tolerance and attitudes towards
the speaker.

There is also an argument suggesting that the
LFC might cause diversification in language use and, as a result, in
unintelligible varieties (Dziubalska-Ko?aczyk, 2005; Lee & Ridley, 1999; Tarone,
1987; Yamaguchi, 2002). However, Jenkins (2000), Smith (1992), and Widdowson
(1994) argued that this is rarely likely to occur. According to the language
universals theory (Anderson, 1987; Jakobson, 1941), there is a universality of
solutions and substitution of sounds that are used by interlocutors when L2 features
do not exist in L1. For example, the dental fricatives /?/ and /ð/ in English are
commonly substituted in L2 by restricted alternatives — /t/ and /d/, /s/ and
/z/ or, less commonly, /f/ and /v/ — and, thus, L1 transfer will not reduce
intelligibility (Jenkins, 2000). This is also one of the reasons behind
Jenkins’s (2000) and (2002) suggestion that learners of ELF pronunciation
should be exposed to speakers of English with different L1s (along with NSs) in
order that they recognize the alternatives used by those speakers for some

Another argument concerns the claim of shifting
the ownership of English (Smith, 1983; Widdowson, 1994). Sobkowiak (2005)
describes this position as “highly emotional, even hysterical” (P. 136), which
is probably a result of confusing linguistics and political or ideological
matters. For Jenkins (2007), this claim neglects the fact that the great
majority of English speakers around the world are NNSs. Also, according
to Jenkins et al. (2011), those who have criticized the LFC, e.g. Sobkowiak
(2005) and Nelson (2008), have tended not to support their criticisms with
empirical evidence but only with their intuitions and even personal dogmas. Finally, since the LFC is derived mainly from
the ELF debate (or based on the lingua franca approach) and the need to aim at
intelligibility rather than NS pronunciation, the arguments on the advantage of
intelligibility over nativeness, and the ones on the lingua franca approach
mentioned above can all lend support to the LFC.


1.2. Research Questions

Trofimovich and Isaacs (2017) concluded
their volume with questions suggested for future research; one of these questions
is ‘how do
different stakeholders perceive assessments of pronunciation in formal and
informal contexts?’. Thus, given this question and the significant advantage of
intelligibility over nativeness in pronunciation demonstrated above, and the
limitedness of research in pronunciation assessment in general (Harding, 2012b;
Munro & Derwing, 2015), my research will come to look into the attitudes to
nativeness and intelligibility in pronunciation assessment in a formal, untouched
before, context — a Saudi context. Trofimovich
and Isaacs (2017) also stated that assessment research targeting multilingual lingua
franca L2 users in non-Western contexts is lacking; thus, given this
limitation, my research will come to share in filling this literature gap by
looking at pronunciation assessment given to L2 users using English for
communication with other L2 users with different L1s (e.g., Arabic, Hindi,

Furthermore, taking into
consideration that what is more relevant to both language researchers and
teachers is which linguistic dimensions are relatively more important for
comprehensibility, compared to other dimensions (Saito, Trofimovich, Isaacs, & Webb, 2017), and what is mentioned
above on the advantages of the lingua franca approach and the LFC, I will
consider the LFC items as measures for intelligibility. However, because of some
of the experimental studies that replicated the ELF pronunciation research,
mentioned above, have found results contradictory to some of the LFC items, I
will exclude those items from the LFC when considering the measures for
intelligibility in my study to guarantee more reliable findings. Overall, the
guiding questions to my study are the following:

What are EFL NS and NNS teachers’ beliefs
about nativeness and intelligibility in pronunciation assessment in Saudi

To what extent do EFL NS and NNS teachers
apply nativeness and intelligibility in their assessment of pronunciation in
Saudi Arabia?

To what extent is the pronunciation
assessment materials based on nativeness and intelligibility in Saudi Arabia?

1 More on non-nativeness and maintaining identity
is to come in section Arguments for and against the LFC.

Section Arguments
for and against the LFC below includes more details
regarding interlocutors’ modification of their speech.

Section Arguments
for and against the LFC below tells more about this

All the details of the LFC were extracted from Jenkins (2000).

5 A
word group are words which together form a meaningful unit, and it is separated
from the preceding and/or following word group(s) by a pause at the boundaries
or, less commonly, by a change in an overall pitch level or rhythm (Jenkins,


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