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Abstract: Munro

The multi-dimensional nature of L2 pronunciation: Implications for research and pedagogy

Murray J. Munro
Department of Linguistics
Simon Fraser University

In speech research, the need for measurement of spoken utterances has long been recognized. Although 20th-century innovations in hardware and more recent advances in freely-available software have played an important role in meeting phoneticians’ needs, audio-perceptual (AP) techniques have long served as the method of choice in second-language pronunciation work. Much current thought is converging on the view that, in research and teaching, L2 speech is best considered in terms of a variety of partially-independent AP dimensions, each of which provides a different window on the nature of the spoken material. Typically, listeners assign ratings, identify utterances, and provide other types of responses to speech stimuli; the resulting data are then used to pinpoint sources of communication breakdowns and to assess the effectiveness of pedagogical interventions. While it would be impossible to make evidence-based decisions about what aspects of pronunciation to teach and how to teach them without some sort of speech measurement, agreement on the nature of AP dimensions, their relative importance, and the ways they should be operationalized is far from complete. Moreover, in the light of legitimate concerns about language-based discrimination and negative social evaluation of L2 speakers, skepticism has been expressed about the putative subjectivity of dimensions like “comprehensibility” and “intelligibility,” and about their validity as measurement tools. In this talk I synthesize previous findings that bear on current questions and controversies about L2 speech evaluation, and present new data that support the value of carefully-administered tests and judiciously-interpreted results from AP assessment.