Phonetic convergence, communicative efficiency, and language distance

Ann R Bradlow*, Midam Kim, Minyoung Kim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Many English conversations across the globe today involve talkers with different language experiences. Here we show that, while language barriers challenge communicative efficiency, the detrimental effect of language distance may be mitigated by phonetic convergence. We analyzed a corpus of conversations in which talker pairs solved a spot-the-difference puzzle by verbally comparing two scenes only one of which was visible to each talker ("diapix" task). Language distance was varied by pairing talkers who either matched or mismatched in language background and in native/nonnative status relative to the target language. Communicative efficiency was measured by task-completion-time and word type-to-token ratio. Phonetic convergence was assessed by perceptual similarity tests in which listeners compared samples from one talker's speech to samples from his/her partner's speech from either early or late portions of the conversation. In this test, greater similarity for late than early samples indicates convergence. Results showed a negative correlation between language distance and communicative efficiency, a negative correlation between language distance and phonetic convergence, and a mitigating effect of phonetic convergence on the negative correlation between language distance and communicative efficiency. This suggests that convergence may be an effective mechanism for overcoming the detrimental effects of a language barrier.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number060141
JournalProceedings of Meetings on Acoustics
StatePublished - Jun 19 2013
Event21st International Congress on Acoustics, ICA 2013 - 165th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America - Montreal, QC, Canada
Duration: Jun 2 2013Jun 7 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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