The Effect of Pause Duration on Intelligibility of Non-Native Spontaneous Oral Discourse

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Brigham Young University - Provo

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Lege, Ryan Frederick
Brigham Young University - Provo
pausing; pause duration; oral discourse; hesitation; intelligibility; comprehensibility; prosody; non-native; juncture; suprasegmentals; TESOL; linguistics; Linguistics
thesis / dissertation description
Pausing is a natural part of human speech. Pausing is used to segment speech, negotiate meaning, and allow for breathing. In oral speech, pausing, along with other suprasegmental features, plays a critical role in creating meaning as comprehensible speech is seen as a goal for language learners around the world. In order to be comprehensible, language learners need to learn to pause correctly in their speaking. Though this notion is widely accepted by applied linguists and many language teachers, the effect of pausing on intelligibility of spontaneous oral discourse has not been established by empirical data. This study isolates pause duration in spontaneous oral discourse in order to establish its connection to the intelligibility of non-native speech. In this study, North American undergraduate students' reactions to non-native pause duration in spontaneous oral discourse were examined. The task involved measuring the NESs' processing, comprehension, and evaluation of three different versions of an international teaching assistant's presentation: One with unmodified pause duration, one with pause duration shortened by 50%, and a third passage with pause duration lengthened by 50%. Results showed a positive correlation between pause duration and number of listeners able to identify main ideas. Finally, listener reaction was measurably more positive to the unmodified passage than to the passages with lengthened or shortened pauses.