Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton February 13, 2018

The effect of perceived ethnicity on spoken text comprehension under clear and adverse listening conditions

Adriana Hanulíková
From the journal Linguistics Vanguard


Social information such as ethnicity affects metalinguistic judgments, speech perception and evaluation. This study tested whether previously reported negative effects of perceived East-Asian ethnicity on language comprehension and accentedness ratings would also be found for Moroccan ethnicity and in a socio-cultural environment with a population used to being and communicating with nonnative speakers. The results showed that accentedness ratings and comprehension scores do not depend upon the ethnicity of the speaker. We then tested whether the effect would change under adverse listening conditions and found an effect of perceived ethnicity on accentedness ratings but not on comprehension scores, suggesting that the effect of ethnicity on language comprehension is not altered under adverse listening conditions. Effects of ethnicity on accentedness ratings thus replicate previous findings, but only under suboptimal listening conditions. Although the effect of ethnicity on comprehension was not replicated in regards to Moroccan ethnicity and in a linguistically experienced population, negative correlations between accentedness ratings and the corresponding comprehension scores underlie the contribution of listeners’ characteristics to the comprehension and evaluation of nonnative speech.


We would like to thank Laurence Bruggeman for assistance in testing participants and Frank Eisner for help with voice manipulations and for comments on previous versions of this manuscript. This research was presented at the Cognitive Science Conference in Berlin, 2013. This research was funded by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Germany, and FRIAS.


Babel, Molly & Jamie Russell. 2015. Expectations and speech intelligibility. Journal of Acoustical Society of America 137(5). 2823–2833. Search in Google Scholar

Boersma, Paul & David Weenink. 2012. Praat: Doing phonetics by computer [Computer program]. Version 5.1.29, available from Search in Google Scholar

Brewer, Marilynn B. 1988. A dual process model of impression formation. In R. S. Wyer & T. K. Srull (eds.), Advances in social cognition, Vol. 1, 1–36. Hilsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Search in Google Scholar

CBS – Statistics Netherlands. 2013. Retrieved March 8th, 2013, Search in Google Scholar

CBS – Statistics Netherlands. 2017. Retrieved August 3rd, 2017, Search in Google Scholar

Coenders, Marcel, Marcel Lubbers, Peer Scheepers & Maykel Verkuyten. 2008. More than two decades of changing ethnic attitudes in the Netherlands. Journal of Social Issues 64(2). 269–285. Search in Google Scholar

Davies, Alan. 2003. The native speaker: Myth and reality. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters. Search in Google Scholar

Demšar, Janez. 2006. Statistical comparisons of classifiers over multiple data sets. Journal of Machine Learning Research 7. 1–30. Search in Google Scholar

Derwing, Tracey M. & Murray J. Munro. 1997. Accent, intelligibility, and comprehensibility. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 20. 1–16. Search in Google Scholar

EF English Proficiency Index. 2013. Retrieved from, November 2016. Search in Google Scholar

EF English Proficiency Index. 2016. Retrieved from, November 2016. Search in Google Scholar

Fiske, Susan T., Monica Lin & Steven L. Neuberg. 1999. The continuum model ten years later. In Shelly Chaiken & Yaacov Trope (eds.), Dual-process theories in social psychology, 231–254. New York: Guilford Press. Search in Google Scholar

Friedman, Amelia. 2015. America’s lacking language skills. The Atlantic. Retrieved from Search in Google Scholar

Furman, Nelly, David Goldberg & Natalia Lusin. 2007. Enrollments in languages other than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2006. MLA: The Modern Language Association of America. Search in Google Scholar

Glock, Sabine & Sabine Krolak-Schwerdt. 2013. Does nationality matter? The impact of stereotypical expectations on student teachers’ judgments. Social Psychology of Education 16(1). 111–127. Search in Google Scholar

Hansen, Karolina, Tamara Rakić & Melanie C. Steffens. 2014. When actions speak louder than words: Preventing discrimination of nonstandard speakers. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 33(1). 68–77. Search in Google Scholar

Hanulíková, Adriana & Manuel Carreiras. 2015. Electrophysiology of subject-verb agreement mediated by speaker’s gender. Frontiers in Psychology: Cognition 6. 1396. Search in Google Scholar

Hanulíková, Adriana, Petra van Alphen, Merel van Goch & Andrea Weber. 2012. When one person’s mistake is another’s standard usage: The effect of foreign accent on syntactic processing. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 24(4). 878–887. Search in Google Scholar

Hay, Jennifer, Aaron Nolan & Katie Drager. 2006a. From fush to feesh: Exemplar priming in speech perception. The Linguistic Review 23. 251–379. Search in Google Scholar

Hay, Jennifer, Paul Warren & Katie Drager. 2006b. Factors influencing speech perception in the context of a merger-in-progress. Journal of Phonetics 34(4). 458–484. Search in Google Scholar

Kang, Okim & Donald L. Rubin. 2009. Reverse linguistic stereotyping: Measuring the effect of listener expectations on speech evaluation. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 28. 441–456. Search in Google Scholar

Lambert, Wallace E., Richard C. Hodgson, Robert C. Gardner & Samuel Fillenbaum. 1960. Evaluational reactions to spoken languages. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 60. 44–51. Search in Google Scholar

Langner, Oliver, Ron Dotsch, Gijsbert Bijlstra, Ddaniel H. J. Wigboldus, Skyler T. Hawk & Ad van Knippenberg. 2010. Presentation and validation of the Radboud Faces Database. Cognition and Emotion 24(8). 1377–1388. Search in Google Scholar

Lattner, Sonja & Angela D. Friederici. 2003. Talker’s voice and gender stereotype in human auditory sentence processing: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Neuroscience Letters 339. 191–194. Search in Google Scholar

Macrae, C. Neil & Galen V. Bodenhausen. 2001. Social cognition: Categorical person perception. British Journal of Psychology 92. 239–255. Search in Google Scholar

McGowan, Kevin. B. 2015. Social expectation improves speech perception in noise. Language and Speech 58(4). 502–521. Search in Google Scholar

Niedzielski, Nancy. 1999. The effect of social information on the perception of socio-linguistic variables. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18(1). 62–85. Search in Google Scholar

Rubin, Donald L. 1992. Nonlanguage factors affecting undergraduates’ judgements of nonnative English-speaking teaching assistants. Research in Higher Education 33(4). 511–531. Search in Google Scholar

Scharinger, Mathias, Philip J. Monahan & William J. Idsardi. 2011. You had me at “Hello”: Rapid extraction of dialect information from spoken words. Neuroimage 56. 2329–2338. Search in Google Scholar

Schalk-Soekar, Saskia R. G., Fons J. R. van de Vijver & Mariëtte Hoogsteder. 2004. Attitudes toward multiculturalism of immigrants and majority members in the Netherlands. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 28(6). 533–550. Search in Google Scholar

Staum Casasanto, Laura. 2008. Does social information influence sentence processing? In Proceedings of 30th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Washington, D.C. Search in Google Scholar

Sumner, Meghan, Seung Kyung Kim, Ed King & Kevin B. McGowan. 2014. The socially weighted encoding of spoken words: A dual-route approach to speech perception. Frontiers in Psychology 4. 1015. Search in Google Scholar

Van Berkum, Jos J. A., Danielle van den Brink, Cathelijne M. J. Y. Tesink, Miriam Kos & Peter Hagoort. 2008. The neural integration of speaker and message. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 20(4). 580–591. Search in Google Scholar

Yi, Han-Gyol, Jasmine E. B. Phelps, Rajka Smiljanic & Bharath Chandrasekaran. 2013. Reduced efficiency of audiovisual integration for nonnative speech. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 134(5). 387–393. Search in Google Scholar

Zheng, Yi & Arthur. G. Samuel. 2017. Does seeing an Asian face make speech sound more accented? Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics 79(6). 1841–1859. Search in Google Scholar

Zick, Andreas, Thomas F. Pettigrew & Ulrich Wagner. 2008. Ethnic prejudice and discrimination in Europe. Journal of Social Issues 64(2). 233–251. Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2017-06-06
Accepted: 2017-09-01
Published Online: 2018-02-13

©2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston