A perceptual phonetic similarity space for languages: Evidence from five native language listener groups

Ann Bradlow*, Cynthia Clopper, Rajka Smiljanic, Mary Ann Walter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The goal of the present study was to devise a means of representing languages in a perceptual similarity space based on their overall phonetic similarity. In Experiment 1, native English listeners performed a free classification task in which they grouped 17 diverse languages based on their perceived phonetic similarity. A similarity matrix of the grouping patterns was then submitted to clustering and multidimensional scaling analyses. In Experiment 2, an independent group of native English listeners sorted the group of 17 languages in terms of their distance from English. Experiment 3 repeated Experiment 2 with four groups of non-native English listeners: Dutch, Mandarin, Turkish and Korean listeners. Taken together, the results of these three experiments represent a step towards establishing an approach to assess the overall phonetic similarity of languages. This approach could potentially provide the basis for developing predictions regarding foreign-accented speech intelligibility for various listener groups, and regarding speech perception accuracy in the context of background noise in various languages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)930-942
Number of pages13
JournalSpeech Communication
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • Cross-language speech intelligibility
  • Language classification
  • Phonetic similarity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Science Applications


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