Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Research Notes

Disentangling accent from comprehensibility*


a1 Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance, Concordia University

a2 University of Bristol


The goal of this study was to determine which linguistic aspects of second language speech are related to accent and which to comprehensibility. To address this goal, 19 different speech measures in the oral productions of 40 native French speakers of English were examined in relation to accent and comprehensibility, as rated by 60 novice raters and three experienced teachers. Results showed that both constructs were associated with many speech measures, but that accent was uniquely related to aspects of phonology, including rhythm and segmental and syllable structure accuracy, while comprehensibility was chiefly linked to grammatical accuracy and lexical richness.

(Received November 06 2011)

(Revised January 30 2012)

(Accepted March 18 2012)

(Online publication May 25 2012)


* This research was made possible through grants from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture, and Sir James Lougheed Award of Distinction. We are grateful to Hyojin Song, Yvette Relkoff, Cassandre McLean Ikauno, Margaret Levey, Kathryn MacFadden-Willard, Fabrizio Stendardo, Garrett Byrne, and Joseph Hartfeil for their help with data analyses, and to Tracey Derwing and Murray Munro for sharing some of their testing materials. We also thank Ron Thomson, Carolyn Turner, Sarita Kennedy, and four anonymous BLC reviewers for their helpful input and feedback on the content of this manuscript.