Pronunciation intelligibility of Nigerian speakers of English

  • Fiyinfolu Idowu

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Traditionally, English language pronunciation teaching was typically based on native-speaker norms usually RP British English or General American in most cases. In other words, people studied English intending to interact with native speakers and attaining this “native-like” accent was the goal. However, in the light of the expansion of English as a global language such assumptions are in urgent need of reconsideration and re-evaluation, especially as the situation nowadays is shifting to a scenario where English is increasingly being used for communication world-wide between speakers of other languages (De Souza, 1999; Jenkins, 2000; 2007;2010; 2015). A growing body of research shows that there are now more linguistic exchanges between non- native speakers (NNS-NNS) of English than between non-native speakers and native speakers (NNS-NS) (Beneke, 1991; Mc Arthur, 2002; Crystal, 2003; 2012a; Kirkpatrick, 2006; 2007; Deterding, 2006; 2012; 2014). English is spoken all over the world, and it has become a lingua franca, a real international language and, as a result, intelligibility and successful communication are more important goals for learners than native-like accuracy. It is against this background that this study seeks to assess the pronunciation intelligibility of Nigerian speakers of English to different speakers of English interacting in international settings.
    The study examines the phonological intelligibility of Nigerian speakers of English. Specifically, it investigates the extent to which segmental features of pronunciation (such as consonants, vowels, consonant clusters) in the speech of Nigerian Speakers of English affect their intelligibility to speakers from different contexts. 100 evaluators, (international listeners made up of non-Nigerian speakers) transcribed six speech samples from six audio podcasts in which Nigerian speakers delivered speeches. The transcription of the different speech samples served to assess intelligibility at pronunciation level (specifically segmental features). Results revealed that using vowel realisations distinct from the central vowels [ʌ], [ɜ:], and [ə] and [ɪ] caused intelligibility problems for international listeners. Apart from the quality of vowels mentioned, I also found that the length of vowels contributed to intelligibility breakdown. The non-realisation of consonant such as the glottal fricative [h], the velar plosive [k], and dark (velarized) [l], or [ɫ] contributed substantially to the occurrence of intelligibility breakdown. The results also indicate that using consonant realisations distinct from the voiceless palato-alveolar affricate /tʃ/; voiced palato-alveolar fricative /ʒ/; and voiced alveolar fricative /z/ contributed to the presence of intelligibility problems. However, using consonant different from the dental fricatives /θ/, /ð/, velar nasal [ŋ], and postvocalic /l/ “substitution” such as L vocalisation did not hamper intelligibility.
    In addition, a further consideration was made to include Nigerian listeners given the important role English plays as a language of wider communication among Nigerians of different ethnic groups who themselves have different language backgrounds. It was essential to examine the intelligibility between Nigerians in cross-cultural communication. Thus, the same speech samples of Nigerian speakers presented to the international listeners were presented to 50 Nigerians (with Hausa L1 and Yoruba L1 backgrounds) to transcribe. Results revealed that alternatives to the central vowels [ʌ], [ɜ:], and [ə] were not a problem for Nigerian listeners except in few cases which could be attributed to unfamiliar lexis and context. The length of vowels and non-realisation of consonants did not hamper intelligibility. The findings also indicated that the difference in consonant realisations did not contribute to the occurrence of intelligibility problems except for the use of alveolar tap [ɾ] for plosive [t].
    The findings of the study have significant pedagogical implications for the teaching of English pronunciation in Nigerian schools. Specifically, it will help raise awareness among teachers of the critical problems hindering intelligible pronunciation by Nigerian speakers of English which will be the primary focus in teaching and learning. In addition, it will inform teachers of the segmental features that are not important for international intelligibility so that Nigerian teachers can pay less attention to these features and devote lots of classroom time on only features that matter for intelligibility.
    Date of Award22 Feb 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorMark Jary (Supervisor) & Judith M. Broadbent (Supervisor)


    • pronunciation
    • intelligibility
    • world Englishes

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