Research grant project: The identification of British English accents using prosodic features

Investigators: Carmen Llamas and Sam Hellmuth

Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York, UK

This study examines the extent to which socio-indexical information can be carried in a highly degraded signal. It is also concerned with the role prosody plays in the description and identification of varieties. Five varieties of British English are used to test two hypotheses: (1) listeners are able to identify accents of British English based on the prosodic features of speech alone, (2) listeners are better able to identify accents closer to their own than those geographically removed. Samples of speech from speakers of the varieties in question will be low-pass filtered at 350Hz, leaving segmental content absent or unintelligible. A variety of answering options will be used in the experimental design to test the degree of fine-grained resolution listeners are able to demonstrate in the identification task.

By investigating listeners’ ability to identify regional accents in samples of speech in which segmental content is unintelligible, this study investigates the recoverability of socio-indexical information from a highly degraded signal. The study seeks to demonstrate that prosodic characteristics of regional accent groups carry sufficient information to be considered valid cues to speaker origin in their own right.