We present an acoustic distance measure for comparing pronunciations, and apply the measure to assess foreign accent strength in American-English by comparing speech of non-native American-English speakers to a collection of native American-English speakers. An acoustic-only measure is valuable as it does not require the time-consuming and error-prone process of phonetically transcribing speech samples which is necessary for current edit distance-based approaches. We minimize speaker variability in the data set by employing speaker-based cepstral mean and variance normalization, and compute word-based acoustic distances using the dynamic time warping algorithm. Our results indicate a strong correlation of r = −0.71 (p < 0.0001) between the acoustic distances and human judgments of native-likeness provided by more than 1,100 native American-English raters. Therefore, the convenient acoustic measure performs only slightly lower than the state-of-the-art transcription-based performance of r = −0.77. We also report the results of several small experiments which show that the acoustic measure is not only sensitive to segmental differences, but also to intonational differences and durational differences. However, it is not immune to unwanted differences caused by using a different recording device.
- Acoustic measure
- Acoustic features
- Foreign accent
- Mel-frequency cepstral coefficients
- Spoken language processing