Masaryk University Faculty of Arts



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4.2. Recordings


Before the analysis of the respondents answers, a short description of the recordings is given. It has to be mentioned that pronunciation of the speakers was good and there were not so many mistakes made. For future reference, full recordings were copied on a compact disk which is attached to the thesis.

Czech students were assigned as “Speaker 1” and “Speaker 3”. The errors made by the Speaker 1 could be listed as follows. At first very noticeable problems are weak word stresses, missing sentence stress and weak forms. Consequently, the rhythm is missing. Speaker tends to pronounce the words separately, each in its strong form and not as the rhythmical units. Final consonant devoicing in such words as [sed] or [hɜːd] occurs. There is a weak aspiration in case of stressed p, t, k sounds. The sound /æ/ is not open enough when pronounced and it is replaced by /e/. Voiced dental fricatives are sometimes not pronounced correctly, particularly in the case of function words the sound is replaced by /d/. -ing endings happen to be pronounced incorrectly and the inconsistency in /v/ and /w/ occurs. Pronunciation of Speaker 3 is much better when the rhythm and stressing the significant words are considered. However, the weak forms are not always applied either. The vowel quality appears to be a problem too. The schwa sound in unstressed positions is pronounced more like /e/, the timber difference between /ɪ/ and /e/ makes difficulties and the vowel /ɜː/ is not pronounced completely correctly. Again the sound /æ/ is mispronounced. Speaker pronounces p, t, k sounds in a right way with their corresponding aspirations but dental fricatives within the function words and some of the -ing endings are mispronounced.

Slovak students are represented by “Speaker 4” and “Speaker 5”. Pronunciation of Speaker 4 does not include enough reductions in weak forms and in unstressed syllables of some words e.g. [ˈsemɪtrɪ] is pronounced as [ˈsemetrɪ]. The sound /æ/ is pronounced more like /e/. The dental fricatives in the function words, and also within the word [ɡæðəd], are pronounced as /d/. There is weak aspiration of the corresponding consonants. Speaker 5 pronunciation errors are almost identical with the previous speaker: missing reduction in the weak forms and in unstressed syllables, replacement of the vowel /æ/ by /e/ sometimes even by /a/ and pronunciation of /d/ instead of dental fricatives in the function words. There is weak aspiration in case of the sound /k/ and –ing endings happen to be pronounced not completely correctly.

The two remaining speakers – “Speaker 2” and “Speaker 6” – are Russians. Surprisingly, not even the Russians do the reductions in weak forms. Neither are the stresses strong enough. Aspiration is weak. However the sound /æ/ seems to be more openly pronounced then in case of the rest of the speakers. Interestingly, Speaker 2 pronounces some of the definite articles with the dental fricative but substitution for /d/ occurs too. In Speaker 6 happens to occur the substitution of /ð/ for /d/ and for /z/ as well. Moreover Speaker 6 does not always succeed in correct pronunciation of /h/ sound and the /x/ can be heard instead. The /z/ sound at the end of the words like was, days are mispronounced as /s/. Another specific feature in this speaker is some kind of palatalized pronunciation of the /b/ sound in the word [bent].


4.3. Results


The data from the questionnaire completed by the respondents have been collected and a number of observations can be derived. At first comparison and evaluation of the closed questions with the rating scales are made.

If the evaluations of the speakers are to be seen as the evaluations of the three Slavic nationalities, for the practical reasons, the following groupings can be made:

Speaker 1 + Speaker 3 = the Czechs

Speaker 2 + Speaker 6 = the Russians

Speaker 4 + Speaker 5 = the Slovaks

The first question of each set asked the respondents to rate the speakers on their perceived accentedness on the scale from 1 to 5, where 1= ‘native-like’ and 5= ‘very foreign’. The results for the question are given in Table 9. An average rate for each speaker was calculated and afterwards speakers of the same nationalities were put together according to the above mentioned groupings and the mean for each nationality was deduced. The final numbers are added to the table.



Table 9: Rate of accentedness




Respondents

The average rating

for respective nationalities

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.




Speakers




Czech

S1

3

4

4

4

5

4

3

4

4

4

3.45

S3

1

3

3

4

3

5

3

3

3

2

Slovak

S4

3

2

2

1

4

2

3

3

3

2

2.25

S5

1

2

2

2

1

2

3

2

3

2

Russian

S2

4

3

4

2

2

5

2

2

2

3

3.15

S6

4

4

2

4

2

4

2

4

5

3

“S” is the abbreviation for “Speaker”

As for the question of accentedness, the results show that the mean for Czech students rating is 3.45, for Slovak students it is 2.25 and for Russian students it is 3.15. According to these results the Czechs come out as the most foreign sounding in the eye of the respondents. The Russians are just behind them while the Slovaks seem to be the least accented.



The second question asked about intelligibility. Number 1 indicated ‘easy to understand’ while number 5 was ‘difficult to understand’. The results for the question, with the added mean of the values for each nationality, are presented in Table 10.

Table 10: Rate of intelligibility




Respondents

The average rating

for respective nationalities

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.




Speakers




Czech

S1

2

3

4

3

4

3

4

3

4

3

2.65

S3

1

1

2

2

2

3

3

2

2

2

Slovak

S4

1

1

2

1

3

3

3

2

2

1

1.8

S5

1

1

2

2

1

2

2

2

3

1

Russian

S2

1

2

3

1

2

3

2

2

2

2

2.45

S6

4

3

2

4

2

3

2

3

4

2

The table shows the Czechs and the Russians, with a negligible difference between them, to be more difficult to understand on the part of the listener than the Slovaks. For all three nationalities the rating of this question is better than the rating for the question of accentedness. It follows that even though the foreign accent of speakers is easily noticeable it does not necessarily make the speakers unintelligible. There are certain pronunciation mistakes which cause the speech to be unintelligible.

Data from these two questions generally show that all three nationalities have reached similar evaluations. Since all three languages belong to the group of Slavic languages the results are understandable. However, an interesting observation is that while the means for Czech and Russian speakers are almost the same, differing only in a few decimal points, contrast between the average rates of Czech and Slovak speakers is much bigger. This contrast is surprising because Czech and Slovak belong to the same branch of West Slavic languages and have a lot in common while Russian belongs to East Slavic languages and thus is more different.

The third question also asked the respondents to rate the speakers on the scale from 1 to 5, the question having the headword of phonaesthetic evaluation, where 1 meant ‘very positive’ and 5 meant ‘very negative’. The results can be seen in the Table 11.



Table 11: Rate of phonaestetic evaluation




Respondents

The average rating

for respective nationalities

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.




Speakers




Czech

S1

2

3

3

2

2

3

2

2

3

2

2.15

S3

1

1

2

1

1

3

3

2

3

2

Slovak

S4

2

2

2

1

2

2

3

3

3

1

2

S5

2

1

2

1

1

2

2

2

4

2

Russian

S2

3

2

3

1

1

3

3

2

2

2

2.5

S6

3

3

3

3

1

4

2

4

3

2

In this question Russian students come out as the worst speakers. The mean for Czech and Slovak students is almost equal. Interestingly, it does not correspond with the order in the previous questions. This might mean that even though one speaker makes a lot of errors and sounds not completely intelligible there might be mistakes in the other speaker which are more irritable or unpleasant to hear even if there are just a few.



General overall assessment was the last of the closed questions. It was designed to see if the general impression corresponds with the ratings of the previous aspects. The ratings were basically almost equal to those of the phonaesthetic evaluation as it can be seen in the Table 12.

Table 12: General overall assessment




Respondents

The mean of the rating

for respective nationalities

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.




Speakers




Czech

S1

1

3

3

3

4

3

3

3

3

2

2.25

S3

1

1

2

2

1

2

2

2

2

2

Slovak

S4

1

2

2

1

1

2

3

2

2

1

1.75

S5

1

2

2

1

1

1

3

3

2

2

Russian

S2

2

2

3

1

1

3

4

2

2

2

2.55

S6

4

3

2

3

2

4

2

3

4

2

An open question was added with the aim to find out whether the listeners realized what mistakes the speakers made, whether they had any specific impressions about any of the speakers and to learn what would in the respondents opinions help the speakers to improve their pronunciations. Many respondents answered this question only shortly, but positively, in the way encouraging the speakers, writing comments like “It is ok”, “Just a few small mispronunciations”, “Pronunciation not bad, but definitely needs practice”, “Yes, good! Just keep reading aloud to yourself, practice makes perfect” etc. Moreover, there were some answers which commented on particular features in the speakers pronunciations.

Czech Speaker 1 was told to more clearly enunciate ‘th’ sounds in such words like gathered and speakers “Ss were a bit hard to understand”. Interesting is that speakers word decomposing was pointed out as a mispronunciation. It was pronounced as [ˌdɪkɒmpəʊzɪŋg] with a weak aspiration instead of [ˌdiːkəmˈpəʊzɪŋ] which does not look like a substantial mistake at first. However, the respondents indication points to the importance of the vowel quality. Furthermore the speaker was advised to speak slower. Comments on the errors of the other Czech speaker related to the vowels too. One respondent wrote that “the ‘ack’ in backwards is pronounced oddly like ‘ick’ bickwards” and also that “bent close was pronounced like bin close”. Other respondents advised the speaker to work on the pronunciation of vowels and to speak slowly.

Slovak speaker (Speaker 4) was recommended to pronounce the word ‘the’ clearer since it “sounded more like a letter D”; also the word gathered was commented to sound like ‘gadered’. Pronunciation of ‘th’ in the second Slovak speaker (Speaker 5) was also said to be pronounced like ‘d’ and the emphasis on the syllables was sometimes off. The speaker was furthermore advised to pronounce words ending with ‘t’ more definitely and to have more confidence while speaking.

Speaker 2 who was a Russian student was recommended to slow down, to make the words more distinct and to pay attention to the place to pause in a sentence. Moreover the emphasis on syllables was said to be often off. To the other Russian speaker the respondents advised to practice the vowel sounds and two letters “like st, sh, ch etc”, also not to roll words with ‘r’ and they commented on the pronunciation of fifth which sounded as if ‘fis’ was pronounced.

The obvious problem of each nationality, easily heard by the natives, seems to be incorrect pronunciation of ‘th’ sound and mispronunciation of some vowels. Another very frequent comment was the recommendation of slowing down. Sometimes maybe students want to speak quickly with the aim to sound more native like. However, as it can be seen from the advice, the speed is not the key aspect. It is about pronouncing the substantial words distinctly and correctly while keeping to the correct stressing and rhythm.

The respondents do not seem to differentiate between the three respective nationalities speaking. It seems that each of the speakers was rated individually and no specific connections between the errors of two speakers of the same nationality can be observed. The assumption can be developed by looking at the next question of the survey.

The last question of each set asked the respondents to choose one out of three possible nationalities for each speaker and in this way to guess where they come from. Each speaker was matched with several nationalities e.g. Speaker 1 was guessed to be a Czech by four respondents, to be a Slovak by four respondents and to be a Russian by just two of them. The overview of the answers can be seen in Table 13.



Table 13: Overview of respondents guesses about the nationalities of the speakers




How many times was the speaker guessed to belong to a particular nationality




To Czech

To Slovak

To Russian

Speaker 1 (Czech)

4

4

2

Speaker 2 (Russian)

3

4

3

Speaker 3 (Czech)

6

0

4

Speaker 4 (Slovak)

2

7

1

Speaker 5 (Slovak)

4

4

2

Speaker 6 (Russian)

4

4

2

In most of the speakers, the numbers of their guessed nationalities are in such ratios as: 4:4:2 or 3:4:3. These numbers do not substantially determine the speakers as representatives of just one nationality. Therefore, it seems that the respondents saw the speakers more likely as a group of foreign speakers not distinguishing any specific nationalities among them. Only in case of Speaker 3 and Speaker 4 the results could be taken as significant. Out of 10 assessors 6 think that the Speaker 3 is Czech. In case of Speaker 4 there are 7 people who think that the speaker is Slovak. Interestingly, both of these guesses are correct. However no clarification for the choices was given.

Another interesting observation is the fact that the least chosen nationality was the Russian one. Since Czech and Slovak are very similar languages, fusion of the speakers of these two languages is not surprising. However, the Russian speakers who would be expected to stick out a bit, sounded for the assessors equally as the other two nationalities. There is possibility that the respondents had expected the Russians to sound more specifically and thus most of them did not assign the Russian nationality to any of the speakers.

Based on the answers to the questions about the best and the worst speaker, Czech Speaker 1 comes out as the worst while Slovak Speaker 4 seems to be the best. However, neither of them was selected by more than half of the respondents – the Czech was chosen 5 times as the worst speaker and the Slovak was labelled 4 times as the best speaker.



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