A cognitively grounded measure of pronunciation distance

Martijn Wieling, John Nerbonne, Jelke Bloem, Charlotte Gooskens, Wilbert Heeringa, R. Harald Baayen

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In this study we develop pronunciation distances based on naive discriminative learning (NDL). Measures of pronunciation distance are used in several subfields of linguistics, including psycholinguistics, dialectology and typology. In contrast to the commonly used Levenshtein algorithm, NDL is grounded in cognitive theory of competitive reinforcement learning and is able to generate asymmetrical pronunciation distances. In a first study, we validated the NDL-based pronunciation distances by comparing them to a large set of native-likeness ratings given by native American English speakers when presented with accented English speech. In a second study, the NDL-based pronunciation distances were validated on the basis of perceptual dialect distances of Norwegian speakers. Results indicated that the NDL-based pronunciation distances matched perceptual distances reasonably well with correlations ranging between 0.7 and 0.8. While the correlations were comparable to those obtained using the Levenshtein distance, the NDL-based approach is more flexible as it is also able to incorporate acoustic information other than sound segments.


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