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Primary Stress And Intelligibility Research To Motivate The Teaching Of Suprasegmentals
 

Primary Stress And Intelligibility Research To Motivate The Teaching Of Suprasegmentals

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    Primary Stress And Intelligibility Research To Motivate The Teaching Of Suprasegmentals Primary Stress And Intelligibility Research To Motivate The Teaching Of Suprasegmentals Document Transcript

    • Primary Stress and Intelligibility: Research to Motivate the Teaching of Suprasegmentals LAURA D. HAHN University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, United States This study examined native English speakers’ reactions to nonnative primary stress in English discourse. I measured North American under- graduate students’ processing, comprehension, and evaluations of three versions of an international teaching assistant’s speech: with primary stress correctly placed, incorrectly placed, or missing entirely. Results indicated that when listening to speech with correct primary stress, the participants recalled significantly more content and evalu- ated the speaker significantly more favorably than when primary stress was aberrant or missing. Listeners also tended to process discourse more easily when primary stress was correct, but the result was not significant. These findings provide insights into how using primary stress affects international TAs’ intelligibility. They also provide empiri- cal support and suggest new ideas for current pedagogical practices that emphasize suprasegmentals in teaching pronunciation. N umerous pedagogical resources on ESL/EFL pronunciation advo- cate teaching nonnative speakers (NNSs) suprasegmentals to im- prove the intelligibility of their speech. However, little empirical support exists for such claims. Knowing how the various prosodic features actually affect the way native speakers (NSs) process nonnative speech would substantially strengthen the rationale for current pronunciation pedagogy. Such information would also affect the training of interna- tional teaching assistants (ITAs), who interact with students in extended discourse. Because the relationship between suprasegmentals and intelli- gibility is so complex, it is helpful to isolate particular suprasegmental features for analysis. One feature that warrants attention is primary stress, also known as sentence stress (Bardovi-Harlig, 1986; Schmerling, 1976), accent (Bolinger, 1972; Gunter, 1974), nucleus (Cruttenden, 1997; Gussenhoven, 1983, 1985), and tonic (Crystal, 1969; Halliday, 1967a, 1967b). Primary stress is realized in speech by combining a detectable TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 38, No. 2, Summer 2004 201
    • change in pitch with increased vowel duration and increased intensity (e.g., Bolinger, 1986; Cruttenden, 1997; Crystal, 1969; Ladd & Cutler, 1983; Lehiste, 1969; Lieberman, 1967). In English discourse, primary stress signals new and contrastive information (Bardovi-Harlig, 1986; Brown, 1983; Chafe, 1976; Clark & Haviland, 1977; Halliday, 1967a, 1967b; Halliday & Hasan, 1976; Sperber & Wilson, 1986). For example, in the following dialogue between Person A and Person B, when B introduces new information to the discourse context it receives primary stress (indicated by ´), while lexical items that are given or that represent old information are destressed (indicated by a wavy underline): A: Are you ready? B: I’m álways ready. Similarly, primary stress marks contrasts, as in “I prefer réd wine to whíte wine.” Thus in English, new and contrastive information is presented in stressed elements, and old or given information is expressed in un- stressed elements. For convenience, these relationships can be called the given-new stress connection (GNSC). This article presents results of a study examining the GNSC’s effects on the intelligibility and evaluation of nonnative speech, and it discusses the pedagogical implications of findings for ESL pronunciation teachers. PEDAGOGICAL CLAIMS ABOUT SUPRASEGMENTALS In her 1991 article summarizing the state of the art in pronunciation pedagogy, Joan Morley identifies suprasegmentals as one guiding prin- ciple for pronunciation teaching. Current practice “[redirects] priorities within the sound system to a focus on the critical importance of suprasegmentals (i.e., stress, rhythm, intonation, etc.) and how they are used to communicate meaning in the context of discourse” (1991, p. 493). This statement reflects a commonly accepted claim in pronuncia- tion pedagogy today: that suprasegmentals play a crucial role in commu- nication. However, claims about suprasegmentals’ relevance to intelligi- bility can be traced back at least to structural linguists such as Nida (1957): How often we have had the experience of hearing some foreigner speak English with perfectly intelligible consonants and vowels and with standard grammatical forms; and yet we have had the greatest of difficulty in under- standing because the intonational patterns were entirely unnatural and 202 TESOL QUARTERLY
    • strange to us. Moreover, we may completely misinterpret a person speaking English. . . . Proper intonation contributes a high percentage to the total intelligibility of speech. (pp. 117–118) Such assertions continued in ESL/EFL pedagogy, reaching a peak in the 1980s and 1990s with the advent of communicative language teaching and research on discourse. This era brought a proliferation of claims about the value of teaching suprasegmentals and reflected a deeper understand- ing of the relationship between suprasegmentals and intelligibility. For example, McNerney and Mendelsohn (1992) claim that “a short term pronunciation course should focus first and foremost on suprasegmentals as they have the greatest impact on the comprehensibility of the learner’s English. We have found that giving priority to the suprasegmental aspects of English not only improves learners’ comprehensibility but is also less frustrating for students because greater change can be effected” (p. 132). Brazil, Coulthard, and Johns (1980), Pennington and Richards (1986), Morley (1991), Brown (1995), Clennell (1996), Celce-Murcia, Brinton, and Goodwin (1996), and Chela-Flores (1998) have presented similar arguments about pronunciation instruction. Although these authors base their assertions on a theoretical understanding of prosody in discourse, they offer little, if any, empirical evidence to support their claims about how suprasegmentals affect the intelligibility of nonnative speech. NNSs’ USE OF PRIMARY STRESS In general, NNSs find the rhythm and stress patterns of English challenging. Studies such as Adams (1979), Wenk (1985), Mochizuki- Sudo and Kiritani (1991), and Anderson (1993) have investigated NNS’ production of English rhythm and concluded that transfer from the native language interfered with learners’ ability to appropriately pro- duce English-like stress alternations across a phrase. Other studies have more specifically examined NNSs’ production and perception of English primary stress. Wennerstrom (1994) found that NSs of Thai, Japanese, and Spanish failed to use pitch movement to highlight new or contrastive information to the same degree that native English speakers do. She also observed that the NNSs used “less reduction of pitch and volume” on the utterances’ given information (p. 409). Juffs (1990) found that Chinese learners of English used pitch movement on every word in a message unit, “using tonic [i.e. primary] stress on virtually every lexical item, whether it be semantically important or a function word” (p. 107). Other studies documenting NNSs’ difficulties with primary stress include de Bot (1986), Watanabe (1988), Hahn (1999), and Pennington and Ellis (2000). PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 203
    • Clearly, many nonproficient NNSs from many linguistic backgrounds have difficulty mastering the primary stress system in English. They exhibit two major problems: misplacing primary stress (often stressing given information instead of new) and stressing all words in an utterance more or less equally, without one prominent stress. In both cases, these learners of English violate the GNSC: They fail to stress new information by increasing pitch and volume and to destress old information by reducing pitch and volume. INTELLIGIBILITY OF NONNATIVE SPEECH PATTERNS How, then, does NNSs’ difficulty with primary stress in discourse affect intelligibility? Intelligibility is a complex construct, and as such it has been defined and measured in numerous ways (Albrechtsen, Henriksen, & Faerch, 1980; Fayer & Krasinski, 1987; Jenkins, 2000, 2002; Ludwig, 1982; Munro & Derwing, 1995a, 1999; Nelson, 1983; Smith & Rafiqzad, 1985; Varonis & Gass, 1982). Some studies of ITAs’ speech have proposed correlations between using suprasegmentals accurately and speaker intelligibility. Tyler, Jeffries, and Davies (1988) studied the discourse of ITAs whom undergraduates perceived as disorganized and unfocused. They found that these ITAs used too many pauses, too many primary stresses per message unit, and inappropriate falling intonation. Gallego (1990) had undergraduates view videotapes of ITAs and stop the tape when they felt that communi- cation broke down. When ESL experts analyzed these breakdowns, they discovered that most of them occurred when ITAs made pronunciation errors, usually word stress. However, these studies do not show that the errors caused the undergraduates’ perceptions. Outside of the ITA context, other research has suggested that suprasegmental features such as wave duration and wave peak amplitude (Constantinou, 1993), word stress (Bansal, 1969), and the interstress interval (Anderson, 1993) affect intelligibility. Jenkins (2002) examined communication breakdowns of nonnative to nonnative speech, and found “a combination of phonological errors which caused the most serious problems in [her] data: misplaced tonic (nuclear) stress along with a consonant substitution within the wrongly stressed word” (p. 89). Psycholinguistic studies of speech processing suggest that even when NSs violate the GNSC in ways that NNSs do, sentence processing for the listener becomes more difficult (e.g., Birch & Clifton, 1995; Bock & Mazella, 1983; Cutler, 1984; Eefting, 1992; Fowler & Housum 1987; Terken & Hirschberg, 1994; Wells, 1986). However, the stimuli in these studies involved only very brief contexts, not longer pieces of discourse 204 TESOL QUARTERLY
    • where the cumulative effect of aberrant primary stress might be more salient, as Nash (1971) hypothesized. Sociolinguistic perspectives also elucidate intelligibility because par- ticipants in a communicative event often do more than process speech in the linguistic area of their brains; they have other, more subjective experiences as well. Consciously or not, they may judge the speaker’s personality and linguistic abilities and the quality of the message (Eisen- stein, 1983; Ludwig, 1982; Ryan, 1983). Listeners will usually downgrade the personalities of those who speak accented English (Anisfeld, Bogo, & Lambert, 1962; Mulac, Hanley, & Prigge, 1974; Raisler, 1976; Webster & Kramer, 1968). However, these types of studies often do not specify the nature of “accentedness” or distinguish among the effects of deviances in specific segmental and suprasegmental features in nonnative discourse. One exception is Pickering (2001), who argues that nonnative tonal structure (overuse of falling tones) led listeners to characterize her subjects as “unsympathetic and uninvolved” (p. 233). Evidence is contradictory concerning the extent to which NSs evaluate NNSs’ linguistic ability according to other features of the communicative event (Eisenstein, 1983). Some studies of ITA teaching have suggested that undergraduate students may evaluate ITAs’ speech according to such factors as the ITA’s perceived country of origin (Brown, 1988) or the general “social mythology” associated with ITAs (Orth, 1982) rather than an ITA’s actual linguistic ability. Other studies, however, confirm that untrained NSs can accurately evaluate linguistic skills (e.g., Albrechtsen, Henriksen, & Faerch, 1980; Flege, 1984; Palmer, 1973). THE CURRENT STUDY The literature reviewed shows that NNSs frequently violate the GNSC. A practical question then emerges: How do such violations affect native- speaking listeners? The psycholinguistic literature indicates that NSs may process and comprehend such discourse with more difficulty and that nonnativelike stress may elicit negative evaluations from NSs. The question also has pedagogical ramifications, as reflected in the summons from Pennington (1994): “As a basis for deciding which features to teach, research is needed to identify those phonological features to which native listeners attend most and react most strongly” (p. 8). The current study took up this challenge to determine the impact that NNSs’ misplaced or missing primary stress could have on native-speaking listeners. To control for other linguistic variables, three versions of a text were adapted from an authentic academic lecture (Triandis, 1990) and recorded by a NNS. The versions were identical except that Versions B and C reflected nonnative usage and violated the GNSC as follows: PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 205
    • Version A: GNSC was maintained. Example: The úrban environment is more individualistic than the rúral environment. Version B: GNSC was violated through misplaced primary stress. Example: The urban environment is more individualistic than the rural envíronment. Version C: GNSC was violated through absence of primary stress. Example: The urban environment is more individualistic than the rural environment. The following research questions were investigated: Would NSs pro- cess the discourse more easily when the speaker maintained the GNSC? Would they comprehend more of the content? Would they evaluate the speaker and the speech more favorably? METHOD An experimental study was designed using oral texts constructed to systematically vary the GNSC, and naïve listeners were asked to respond to three tasks, each corresponding to one of the research questions. Subjects The study had 90 subjects, all of them first-semester freshman students at a large Midwestern public university and NSs from homes where only North American English was spoken; they were randomly assigned (30 each) to one of three experimental groups. Though exposure to nonnative speech can affect the listeners’ ability to comprehend native speech (Smith & Bisazza, 1982), a postexperiment questionnaire (Hahn, 1999) revealed that participants had no significant differences in their exposure to nonnative speech [χ2(2) .643, p .73]. The participants also showed no significant difference in prior familiarity with the content of the lecture [χ2(2) 2.1, p .35]. Materials The stimuli for the experiment consisted of three versions of a text (see Appendix). The language and style of the original lecture were maintained wherever possible. For the sake of cohesion, the text included sentences that were stressed on the last content word (the most 206 TESOL QUARTERLY
    • neutral pattern); these yielded only one third of the primary stresses in the text. Recordings of the text by seven NSs and two NNSs confirmed the researcher’s normal placement, and thus misplacement and nonplacement, of the primary stresses. A male NS of Korean with a high proficiency level in oral English, experience as an ITA, and graduate-level training in phonetics recorded each version of the text. Multiple recordings were made to ensure that the versions did not contain significant segmental distortions and were prosodically identical to each other except for primary stress. Digital editing techniques were employed (using Macromedia SoundEdit 16) to make the versions equal in other ways, including volume and length (approximately 4.5 minutes). For example, some of the speaker’s pause times were either shortened or lengthened to ensure consistency across versions. Auditory analyses by two native-English-speaking pronunciation teachers confirmed that Versions A, B, and C satisfactorily represented their intended stress patterns. Confirmation was corroborated by acous- tic analyses of the pitch, energy, and duration of relevant syllables in the text using a computerized speech lab (model 4300, Kay Elemetrics). Measure of Difficulty Processing Discourse The subjects’ difficulty processing the discourse in each text version was evaluated using the dual-task paradigm prevalent in psycholinguistic studies of spoken language processing (e.g., Hecker, Stevens, & Williams, 1966; Munro & Derwing, 1995b; Schmidt-Nielsen, Kallman, & Meijer, 1990; Tun, Wingfield, & Stine, 1991). Tun, Wingfield, and Stine summa- rize this approach: The logic of this method is that if attentional capacity is constrained by a limited pool of processing resources, then changes in the resources allocated to a primary task such as listening to a speech should be reflected by reciprocal changes in performance on a secondary task that is carried out concurrently. If an individual devotes more resources to the primary task, performance should be poorer on the secondary task. This will, of course, be true to the extent that task demands overlap. (pp. 3–4) The participants’ primary task was to understand and remember the lecture’s content. Their secondary task was to monitor for a tone presented intermittently in the background of the speech; subjects clicked a computer mouse when they heard the tone, and a computer measured the reaction time between the tone and the mouse click. The tones were generated randomly at 3- to 7-second intervals (Tun, Wingfield, & Stine, 1991) throughout the audio lecture. The same random pattern was applied to all three versions such that the tones occurred at very PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 207
    • nearly the same places in the text. A computer program presented the stimulus (the oral text and the tones) and recorded the reaction time (in milliseconds). A pilot study indicated that subjects listening to Version A without the tones did not score significantly higher on a recall task [F(3, 50) .107, p .96] or a comprehension quiz [F(3, 50) 1.126, p .35] than subjects in any of the other groups. The tone detection task itself therefore did not interfere significantly with subjects’ comprehen- sion of the discourse. Measures of Comprehension The study measured overall comprehension of the lecture in two ways. In the first measure, subjects were asked to write down as much as they could recall from the lecture so that the researcher could determine the number of main ideas and details each subject had understood and retained. The second measure was a short-answer comprehension quiz, designed to test how well the subjects understood and remembered particular information in the lecture. The questions, developed through a series of pilot tests, elicited each main idea in the lecture. Answers to the quiz were assigned a maximum value of 2 points each. The scoring scheme consisted of 0 points for “no answer” or “completely incorrect,” 1 point for “partially correct,” and 2 points for “completely correct.” Measure of Evaluative Reactions to the Speaker To elicit NSs’ subjective reactions to the speaker and the lecture, attitudinal questions were selected from the Instructor and Course Evaluation System (ICES) Item Catalog, which is a pool of Likert-type items that instructors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign regularly use to collect summative feedback from students on their classroom instruction. ICES items are presented in rating-scale form, and students respond by selecting the one option on a numerical five-point scale that best describes their opinion (Braskamp, Ory, & Brandenburg, 1984). The items for the present study (see Table 4) were selected from a subset of items on communication skills. They focused on the speaker’s voice and English-speaking ability (Items 1, 4, 8, 9, and 10), the content of the lecture (Items 2, 3, and 11), and the general delivery of the message (Items 5, 6, and 7). The final item on this questionnaire was an open-ended question inviting short-answer comments about the TA. 208 TESOL QUARTERLY
    • Procedure The 90 subjects were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups and tested individually. The researcher explained the instruc- tions and the format of the experiment. Specific instructions and practice for the reaction time task were provided on the computer. The subjects were then informed that they would be listening to a TA and were then asked to complete the reaction time task, the recall, the quiz, and the ICES ratings in that order. RESULTS Dual-Task Data The first dependent variable under consideration was reaction time. A histogram of the reaction time data revealed a negatively skewed distribution, indicating that regardless of experimental conditions, most subjects’ reaction times were rather long, with just a few very small values. Because sample statistics are most meaningful when the value distribu- tion is normal, the reaction times were reciprocally transformed to push the extreme values toward the center, which distributed the values more symmetrically. To use whole numbers rather than fractions in the analyses, the scores were then multiplied by 10,000. The raw data were also examined to determine whether subjects experienced any particular difficulties completing the clicking task. The number of outliers and errors in responses (e.g., double-clicking) was so low that no consistency or pattern could be detected; therefore, the aberrant values were replaced with the mean of the two neighboring values. Consequently, the values obtained are best described in terms of speed not reaction time; that is, a shorter reaction time has a higher speed. Descriptive statistics and effect sizes for reaction time speed appear in Table 1. The subjects listening to the nativelike Version A reacted more quickly (i.e., with higher speed) to the tones than subjects listening to either of the nonnativelike versions. The difference between mean reaction times for Versions A and B was greater than that for Versions A and C. A one-factor analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed no statistically significant differences in reaction time speed among the three groups [F(2, 87) 1.707, p .19]. (A 0.05 significance level was selected for this two-tailed test and each subsequent comparison.) Although the differences in the scores were too small to be attributed to the indepen- dent variable, the large discrepancy in effect size between Versions A and B suggests that the difference may have some practical significance when considered with the other results. PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 209
    • TABLE 1 Descriptive Statistics and Effect Sizes: Reaction Time Speeds for Versions A, B, and C Version N Mean Standard deviation Effect size A 30 133.54 16.46 0.50 (A-B) B 30 125.01 18.86 0.15 (B-C) C 30 127.81 19.21 0.39 (A-C) Note. Effect sizes describe the discrepancy between two means in terms of the standard deviation and were computed using Cohen’s d. Comprehension Data Two native-English-speaking graduate students scored the written recalls using Johnson’s (1970) protocol for scoring and distinguishing between main ideas and details, and the mean scores were used for analysis. A Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was calcu- lated to determine interrater reliability, which was high (.92). Table 2 contains descriptive statistics and effect sizes comparing the ideas recalled by subjects in each group. These results indicate that subjects listening to Version A recalled more main ideas and more details about the lecture than subjects listening to either of the other two versions. An ANOVA yielded statistically significant differences for total amount of information recalled [F(2, 87) 7.128; p .001] and for number of main ideas recalled [F(2, 87) 7.891; p .001] but not for number of details recalled [F(2, 87) 1.062; p .35]. Homogeneity of variance was established between groups (Levene’s statistic for total ideas .007, p .99, and for main ideas .011, p .99). Tukey’s honestly significant difference test was chosen as a posthoc test because it uses the Studentized range statistic to make all pairwise comparisons between groups; thus, in effect, it fixes the familywise error rate at alpha against all possible null hypotheses. Subjects listening to Version A remembered a significantly greater number of ideas than subjects listening to Version B (p .001) or to Version C (p .02). Subjects listening to Version A remembered significantly more main ideas than subjects listening to Version B (p .001) or to Version C (p .05). The comprehension quizzes were scored by two native-English-speaking graduate students; interrater reliability was again high (Pearson’s r .94). Table 3 contains descriptive statistics and effect sizes for the quiz results. Although the mean score of subjects listening to Version A was approximately one point higher than the mean scores of subjects listening to either of the other two versions, the effect sizes were small. 210 TESOL QUARTERLY
    • TABLE 2 Descriptive Statistics and Effect Sizes: Main Ideas, Details, and Total Number of Ideas Recalled from the Text for Versions A, B, and C Main ideas Version N Mean Standard deviation Effect size A 30 13.27 3.78 0.95 (A-B) B 30 9.45 3.65 0.37 (B-C) C 30 10.93 3.83 0.58 (A-C) Detail Version N Mean Standard deviation Effect size A 30 3.78 1.77 0.29 (A-B) B 30 3.22 2.16 0.06 (B-C) C 30 3.37 1.94 0.35 (A-C) Total number of ideas Version N Mean Standard deviation Effect size A 30 17.05 4.58 0.88 (A-B) B 30 12.63 4.54 0.24 (B-C) C 30 13.82 4.94 0.65 (A-C) A one-factor ANOVA of the quiz scores detected no significant difference among groups of subjects [F(2, 87) 1.071, p .35]. Thus it appears that the version of the lecture did not affect any subject’s performance on this quiz. However, the groups’ relative performance on this dependent variable has stayed the same as for the other measures: Scores were highest for subjects listening to Version A, second-highest for subjects listening to Version C, and lowest for subjects listening to Version B. TABLE 3 Descriptive Statistics and Effect Sizes: Quiz Scores for Versions A, B, and C Version N Mean Standard deviation Effect size A 30 10.333 2.79 0.32 (A-B) B 30 9.317 3.09 0.01 (B-C) C 30 9.644 3.55 0.33 (A-C) PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 211
    • Evaluative Data For convenience and consistency in interpretation, the scale for Items 6, 8, and 10 was inverted so that 5 represented the most positive score and 1 the most negative. Descriptive statistics and effect sizes for the 11 ICES items are reported in Table 4. The subjects who listened to Version A rated the speaker higher on every item than did the subjects who listened to Version B or C. Effect sizes indicate that the differences between Version A and the other two are moderate to substantial. In comparing the means, Version B received higher ratings than Version C on eight items (Items 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11), while Version C received higher ratings than Version B on Items 2 and 6. These two groups had equal mean ratings on Item 9. A multivariate ANOVA was conducted with the 11 ICES items as the dependent variables and the three conditions under which the subjects heard the text as the factor variables. The purpose was to determine whether the three groups differed significantly in their responses to the multiple dependent variables. Results (see Table 5) indicated a signifi- cant overall effect for condition (version of the text) [F(2, 87) 2.442, p .001]. Tests of between-subjects effects (see Table 6) examined each item individually and indicated that all ICES items except one (Item 9) were significantly different depending on the version of the text; Item 9 had a medium effect size for A compared to B and C. Pairwise comparisons were then calculated for each item; statistically significant comparisons appear in the final column of Table 6. Version A was rated significantly higher than Version B on 10 out of 11 items (all except Item 4), and significantly higher than Version C on 10 out of 11 items (all except Item 6). Furthermore, for the items rated higher in Version B than in Version C, only Item 8 showed a statistically significant difference. In addition, for Item 6 the mean rating was significantly higher for Version C than for Version B. Overall, subjects’ written comments about the speaker in Version A were the most positive, responses to Version B were more mixed, and responses to Version C were also mixed but more critical of the TA’s delivery than either Version A or B. The most salient finding in the written comments that was not reflected in the ICES items was that 9 of 30 subjects (30%) who listened to the stressless Version C remarked that the TA spoke too fast. The TA for Version A received no such comment, and the TA for Version B received only one. Because the pauses, overall pace, and total speaking time for each version were virtually equal, oral text without primary stresses apparently conveys the impression that the speaker is speaking rapidly. 212 TESOL QUARTERLY
    • TABLE 4 Descriptive Statistics and Effect Sizes: Results from ICES Ratings Version A Version B Version C Effect Sizes Item Mean S.D. Mean S.D. Mean S.D. A-B B-C A-C Is the instructor a good speaker? 3.67 0.76 2.97 1.13 2.80 0.76 0.72 0.18 0.90 How would you characterize the instructor’s ability to explain? 4.20 0.55 3.53 0.97 3.57 0.97 0.74 0.04 0.70 How interesting was the instructor’s presentation? 3.43 0.97 2.70 1.06 2.47 1.25 0.63 0.20 0.83 The instructor emphasized important points by raising voice, repeating, etc. 3.13 1.25 2.80 1.13 2.23 1.30 0.26 0.45 0.71 It was easy to hear and understand the instructor. 3.80 1.10 2.90 1.12 2.60 0.93 0.82 0.28 1.09 The instructor’s lecture seemed to ramble. 3.93 0.98 3.07 1.41 3.67 1.03 0.72 0.50 0.58 The instructor’s presentation would allow for easy note-taking. 4.20 1.03 3.57 1.25 3.53 1.07 0.55 0.03 0.58 The instructor spoke in a monotone, rarely showing expression in voice. 3.03 1.40 2.40 1.16 1.63 0.89 0.49 0.60 1.08 Was the instructor’s voice pleasant or irritating to listen to? 3.43 0.68 2.97 1.07 2.97 0.93 0.50 0.00 0.50 The instructor’s lack of facility with English hindered communication of ideas. 4.03 0.76 3.60 1.19 3.27 1.28 0.65 0.28 0.92 Was the lecture easy to understand? 4.37 0.76 3.60 1.19 3.27 1.28 0.65 0.28 0.92 DISCUSSION In this study, subjects generally responded more positively to NNS discourse when the speaker maintained rather than violated the GNSC; these findings are congruent with the related literature. First, subjects listening to Version A with its correct primary stresses responded somewhat more quickly to the randomized tones than subjects listening to either Version B or C, which did not have correctly placed primary PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 213
    • 214 TABLE 5 Multivariate Test Comparing ICES Item Ratings by Condition (Version of Text) Value F Hypoth. df Error dif. Sig. Eta squared Noncent. parameter Observed power Wilks’s lambda .541 2.250 22 156 .001 .256 55.442 .998 TABLE 6 Tests of Between-Subjects Effects and Pairwise Results for ICES Items Eta Observed Significant group Source Item # SS df MS F Sig. squared power differences Corrected model 1 12.689 2 6.344 7.837 .001 .153 .946 A>B, A>C 2 8.467 2 4.233 5.788 .004 .117 .859 A>B, A>C 3 15.267 2 7.633 6.317 .003 .127 .889 A>B, A>C 4 12.422 2 6.211 4.105 .020 .086 .714 A>C 5 23.400 2 11.700 10.526 .000 .195 .987 A>B, A>C 6 11.822 2 5.911 4.418 .015 .092 .747 A>B, C>B 7 8.467 2 4.233 3.359 .039 .072 .620 A>B, B>C 8 29.489 2 14.744 10.767 .000 .198 .988 A>B>C 9 4.356 2 2.178 2.657 .076 .058 .515 A>B, A>C 10 39.200 2 19.600 13.830 .000 .241 .998 A>B, A>C 11 19.089 2 9.544 7.831 .001 .153 .946 A>B, A>C TESOL QUARTERLY
    • stress. Although this finding was not statistically significant, the effect size suggests some practical evidence that subjects processed Version A with slightly less effort. Second, the mean scores for each experimental group on the recall task and the comprehension quiz followed the same pattern as the mean scores for reaction time speed: Group A scored higher than Group C, which in turn scored higher than Group B. This result suggests that correctly placed primary stress enhances comprehension. Misplaced primary stress may also impede comprehension more than no primary stress, but the data are not conclusive. Additional corroborative evi- dence, however, might show that processing Version B—(subconsciously) recognizing stress anomalies and backtracking to find the real new information—is psycholinguistically more challenging than processing Version C—simply looking for new information without stress clues. Third, analyses of the attitudinal ICES data indicate that NSs tend to rate NNSs who use primary stress more positively than NNSs who either misplace primary stress or do not use it at all. Thus, this pronunciation feature has a clear impact on listeners’ perceptions of a speaker’s ability to communicate. The differences among the three groups of subjects were statistically significant for the recall (comprehension) data and nearly all of the ICES items. Although the differences in reaction time speed and the compre- hension quiz scores were not statistically significant, the results of those measurements follow the pattern found in the other data. This consistent pattern in the results supports the general proposition that correct primary stress in extended nonnative discourse facilitates communication. Implications for ITA Programs and Curricula The results provide evidence that undergraduate students appear to understand and respond more positively to an ITA when primary stress is “doing its job” than when it is not. It therefore seems logical that the ITA curriculum should include instruction in primary stress. However, opin- ions regarding the role of pronunciation instruction in ITA programs have diverged considerably (e.g., Briggs, Hyon, Aldridge, & Swales, 1990; Hinofotis & Bailey, 1981; Hoekje & Williams, 1992; Smith, Byrd, Nelson, Barrett, & Constantinides, 1992). For example, Hoekje and Williams (1992) argue that ITA programs should focus on sociolinguistics, discourse, and “compensatory” strategies, and they suggest that pronunciation instruc- tion may not be effective beyond providing a basic level of proficiency and correct pronunciation of academic terms. Yet this view neglects the contributions of pronunciation, and suprasegmentals in particular, to different aspects of communicative competence. The GNSC, as an important source of cohesion in spoken English PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 215
    • discourse, is essential to discourse competence—and perhaps to an overall perception of communicative competence. The following com- ments from subjects in this study reveal some of the connections they made in this regard: Version A: “It was an enjoyable speech! Pleasant voice, used good inflection and tone, and I had no trouble understanding what was said.” Version B: “The TA didn’t change tone. He was difficult and confusing. I was bored.” Version C: “The TA needs to change the tone of his voice to have a more lasting impact. . . . It was one big flow.” Other connections between the sound system and communicative com- petence can be identified. For example, Chun (1988) acknowledges the role of intonation in discourse competence: Intonation is fundamental to genuine communication because communica- tive competence is the ability not only to formulate grammatically correct utterances, but also to signal interactional strategies, such as interrupting, asking for clarification, taking the floor, changing the subject, concluding an argument, or constraining a hearer to reply. (p. 295) Suprasegmentals also contribute to sociolinguistic competence. Chun suggests that intonation contributes to our interpretations of utterances as polite or impolite and that it marks the role of the participants’ relationships in a conversation. In addition, the use of linking and blending devices in connected speech depends on the register as well as the situation’s degree of formality (Anderson-Hsieh, Riney, & Koehler, 1994; Lass, 1984; Temperley, 1987). Pronunciation is not by any means the only key to ITA effectiveness. However, a broad perspective that acknowledges the various roles that pronunciation features play in communicating meaning in discourse would enhance ITA programs and materials. Of course, these implica- tions would also be relevant for other ESL learners such as health-care workers, business professionals, and other NNSs who participate in extended oral discourse. Implications for Pronunciation Pedagogy and Materials Empirical evidence strengthens pedagogical claims about the impor- tance of teaching suprasegmentals. The results of this study complement current literature advocating the inclusion of primary stress in an ESL 216 TESOL QUARTERLY
    • pronunciation curriculum. For example, Jenkins (2002) includes pri- mary stress in her Lingua Franca Core—a set of phonological features that “seem to be crucial as safeguards of mutual intelligibility in interlanguage talk” (p. 96), indicating that primary stress is an important feature for NNSs who interact with other NNSs as well as with NSs. Fortunately, primary stress can be learned. Pennington and Ellis (2000) found that learners who received explicit instruction significantly im- proved primary stress production, reinforcing Dalton and Seidlhofer’s (1994) argument that primary stress is both teachable and valuable for communicating. Furthermore, Derwing, Munro, and Wiebe (1998) found that ESL students who received 20 minutes per day of instruction in suprasegmentals (including primary stress) significantly improved comprehension and fluency in a narrative speaking task. Many pronunciation textbooks (e.g., Dauer, 1993; Dickerson, 1989; Gilbert, 1984; Grant, 2000; Hagen & Grogan, 1992; Miller, 2000) do teach at least the basics of primary stress, including its role in signaling old and new information. Results from this study support the rationale for using such materials. Specific strategies for teaching primary stress in the ESL/EFL classroom that follow from this study include • Integrating relevant suprasegmental topics with other course mate- rial focusing on sociolinguistic and discourse competence. A general oral skills class could, for example, address contrastive stress when practicing functions such as disagreeing or contradicting, or con- tracting and blending when practicing informal conversations such as small talk. Additional ideas for such integration can be found in Levis and Grant (2003). • Telling students that maintaining the GNSC facilitates communica- tion. A rationale that points to improved intelligibility may motivate students’ learning. Examples of both high-stakes and low-stakes miscommunications could be used to emphasize primary stress’s real-life importance. • Including perception exercises for primary stress. For example, students could practice identifying the primary stress in recordings of spoken discourse. Comparing speech samples with correct, mis- placed, and missing primary stress may also help learners perceive primary stress and its meaning. • Using longer pieces of discourse to allow students to practice primary stress. Most pronunciation textbooks provide short, limited contexts for practicing primary stress. Practicing the GNSC requires dialogues and passages beyond two or three sentences. Focused practice in correctly producing and placing primary stress in stu- dents’ own discourse (conversations and oral presentations) would also be valuable. PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 217
    • • Teaching students how to destress old information. In this study, stressing old information appearing at the end of a message unit made the discourse more difficult to understand. As indicated earlier, NNSs often misplace the primary stress in this way (as in the sentence “So I’m an indivídualist. But I’m not always an indivídual- ist.”). Although many textbooks explain how and why the word always would receive primary stress, they do not provide guidelines on how and why the second individualist is destressed. NNSs need to learn that keeping old information at a lower pitch provides an important contrast between the stressed and unstressed words that facilitates communicating the discourse’s meaning. CONCLUSION This research provides evidence that primary stress contributes signifi- cantly to the intelligibility of nonnative discourse, and it strengthens the broadly stated claims in the pedagogical literature on ESL pronunciation that teaching suprasegmentals is important. However, further studies are needed to corroborate or contradict these findings. For example, par- allel studies could investigate NSs’ reactions to nonnative primary stress with other speaker accents or with different lengths and styles of oral texts. Other measures of intelligibility should also be explored and validated. Similar studies of other linguistic variables such as intonation, word stress, and various segmental features would also help us to more fully understand intelligibility and NS reactions to nonnative pronuncia- tion. Such insights can enhance our understanding of prosodic features in English, help us set pedagogical priorities, and provide guidelines for helping ITAs and other ESL learners achieve communicative compe- tence in English. THE AUTHOR Laura D. Hahn teaches courses in applied English phonology and ESL/EFL methodology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at Wheaton College. She has taught numerous pronunciation courses and is chair-elect of TESOL’s Speech, Pronunciation, and Listening Interest Section. Her research interests include suprasegmentals, teacher preparation, and intelligibility. REFERENCES Adams, C. (1979). English speech rhythm and the foreign learner. The Hague: Mouton. Albrechtsen, D., Henriksen, B., & Faerch, C. (1980). Native speaker reactions to learners’ spoken interlanguage. Language Learning, 30, 365–396. Anderson, P. (1993). The interstress interval as an indicator of perceived intelligibil- 218 TESOL QUARTERLY
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    • Wenk, B. (1985). Speech rhythms in second language acquisition. Language and Speech, 28(2), 157–175. Wennerstrom, A. (1994). Intonational meaning in English discourse: A study of non- native speakers. Applied Linguistics, 15(4), 399–420. APPENDIX Sample of ITA Lecture I will start by defining the topic for today, | which is individualism and collectivism. Individualism concerns the placing of personal goals ahead of group goals. And collectivism concerns placing group goals ahead of personal goals. So let’s suppose you have a conflict at work about break time. Let’s say your co-workers want longer breaks, | but you want shorter breaks. If you’re a collectivist, you’ll give in to the group. But if you’re an individualist, you’ll go against the group. First of all, there are many determinants of individualism and collectivism. Culture is a determinant, | but it’s only one of the determinants. But let me start with culture. Basically, the European cultures, | particularly those in northwestern Europe, | are highly individualistic. England is in northwest Europe, | and it’s typical of the individualist pattern. And the East Asian cultures, | such as China and Japan, | are much more typical of the collectivist pattern. But in between, you have different combinations of the patterns. And I’ll discuss that in a minute. But let me mention some other determinants | of individualism and collectivism. One determinant that’s very important is social class. There’s a tendency for the upper classes to be more individualistic than the lower classes. In other words, people at the top of a social structure | are more likely to think and behave like an individualist | than those near the bottom of the structure. For example, if you look at the history of China, | the emperor of China is more individualistic than the working class in China. So certain classes in a culture | may be more individualistic than the entire population in a culture. PRIMARY STRESS AND INTELLIGIBILITY 223