Perception of dialect variation in noise: Intelligibility and classification

Cynthia G. Clopper, Ann R. Bradlow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Listeners can explicitly categorize unfamiliar talkers by regional dialect with above-chance performance under ideal listening conditions. However, the extent to which this important source of variation affects speech processing is largely unknown. In a series of four experiments, we examined the effects of dialect variation on speech intelligibility in noise and the effects of noise on perceptual dialect classification. Results revealed that, on the one hand, dialect-specific differences in speech intelligibility were more pronounced at harder signal-to-noise ratios, but were attenuated under more favorable listening conditions. Listener dialect did not interact with talker dialect; for all listeners, at a range of noise levels, the General American talkers were the most intelligible and the Mid-Atlantic talkers were the least intelligible. Dialect classification performance, on the other hand, was poor even with only moderate amounts of noise. These findings suggest that at moderate noise levels, listeners are able to adapt to dialect variation in the acoustic signal such that some cross-dialect intelligibility differences are neutralized, despite relatively poor explicit dialect classification performance. However, at more difficult noise levels, participants cannot effectively adapt to dialect variation in the acoustic signal and cross-dialect differences in intelligibility emerge for all listeners, regardless of their dialect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-198
Number of pages24
JournalLanguage and Speech
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Dialect variation
  • Speech intelligibility
  • Speech perception in noise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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