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Perception of intrusive /r/ in English by native, cross-language and cross-dialect
Annelie Tuinman and RSNHolger Mitterer and RSNAnne Cutler and RSN
Citation: The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 130, 1643 (2011); doi: 10.1121/1.3619793
View online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1121/1.3619793
View Table of Contents: http://asa.scitation.org/toc/jas/130/3
Published by the Acoustical Society of America
Perception of intrusive /r/ in English by native, cross-language
and cross-dialect listeners
Annelie Tuinmana)
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9104,
6500 HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Holger Mitterer
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, P.O. Box 310, 6500 AH Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Anne Cutlera),b)
MARCS Auditory Laboratories, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South,
NSW 2751, Australia
(Received 18 October 2009; revised 5 May 2011; accepted 3 July 2011)
In sequences such as law and order, speakers of British English often insert /r/ between law and and.
Acoustic analyses revealed such “intrusive” /r/ to be significantly shorter than canonical /r/. In a
2AFC experiment, native listeners heard British English sentences in which /r/ duration was manipulated across a word boundary [e.g., saw (r)ice], and orthographic and semantic factors were varied.
These listeners responded categorically on the basis of acoustic evidence for /r/ alone, reporting ice
after short /r/s, rice after long /r/s; orthographic and semantic factors had no effect. Dutch listeners
proficient in English who heard the same materials relied less on durational cues than the native listeners, and were affected by both orthography and semantic bias. American English listeners produced intermediate responses to the same materials, being sensitive to duration (less so than native,
more so than Dutch listeners), and to orthography (less so than the Dutch), but insensitive to the
semantic manipulation. Listeners from language communities without common use of intrusive /r/
may thus interpret intrusive /r/ as canonical /r/, with a language difference increasing this propensity
more than a dialect difference. Native listeners, however, efficiently distinguish intrusive from caC 2011 Acoustical Society of America.
nonical /r/ by exploiting the relevant acoustic variation. V
[DOI: 10.1121/1.3619793]
PACS number(s): 43.71.Hw, 43.71.Es [RSN]
Margaret Thatcher’s legendary nickname Laura Norder
not only reflected her political preferences, but also the fact
that, like most of her compatriots, she pronounces law and
order with an intrusive /r/ between law and and. Most British
English dialects are nonrhotic, i.e., they have the phonotactic
constraint whereby /r/ can occur in word onsets but not at
the end of words; thus the /r/ in real /ril/ is pronounced but
the /r/ in a citation-form utterance of hear /[email protected]/ is not, even
though the spelling of hear ends with the letter r.
A pronounced word-final /r/ does appear in British English, for instance when a word such as hear precedes another
word beginning with a vowel (e.g., hear it is spoken as
/[email protected]/). This is known as “linking /r/.” A pronounced /r/
also appears in the similar effect known as “intrusive /r/,”
whereby /r/ may be inserted after a nonhigh vowel (e.g., @, a,
O, or diphthongs ending in [@]) and before a vowel-initial
word (Giegerich, 1992; Cruttenden and Gimson, 1994). Both
of these expressions of /r/ result from so-called connected
speech processes. As the law and order case illustrates, an
Also at: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, P.O. Box 310, 6500
AH Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. Electronic mail:
[email protected]
J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 130 (3), September 2011
Pages: 1643–1652
intrusive /r/ can be reinterpreted as a syllable onset (the
default realization of /r/ in British English). This is more
likely to happen with intrusive than with linking /r/, given
that intrusive /r/ has no reflection in spelling, whereas the
spelling offers a source for a spoken linking /r/.
Connected speech processes feature in all languages, as
far as is known, and their effects have not been ignored by
speech perception research. It is clear from many recent
studies that native listeners are able to derive the correct
interpretations of utterances in which such processes have in
some way altered the canonical pronunciation that a word
sequence might otherwise receive (e.g., Spinelli et al., 2003;
Mitterer et al., 2006a; Mitterer and Ernestus, 2006; Connine
et al., 2008, for liaison in French, assimilation in Hungarian,
/t/ reduction in Dutch, and schwa deletion in American English, respectively). In some cases it has been established
which acoustic cues are exploited to this end (e.g., liaison
consonants are systematically shorter than canonically realized consonants, and listeners base interpretations of otherwise ambiguous sequences such as trop artisan versus trop
partisan on this durational difference; Spinelli et al., 2003).
No such evidence is as yet available for the case of intrusive /r/, however, and the first aim of the current study is to
redress this omission. A prior report suggests that intrusive
and canonically pronounced /r/ differ acoustically (Cruttenden
and Gimson, 1994); we test for the presence of such acoustic
C 2011 Acoustical Society of America
differences in production, and examine in our first perceptual
experiment whether native listeners make use of these acoustic parameters in interpreting a realized /r/ as intrusive (saw
ice) versus canonical (saw rice).
In a second perceptual test we present the same acoustically manipulated materials to proficient users of English as a
second language (L2), whose exposure to English is predominantly to the British variety, but in whose native language,
Dutch, /r/ is pronounced word-finally and no connected
speech process resembles intrusive /r/. Finally, our third perception test examines the responses, again to the same materials, of speakers of American English, i.e., native speakers of
the target language English, who will have been exposed to
varying varieties of this language, including some nonrhotic
varieties with intrusive /r/, but who are not themselves native
users of the British variety.
The processing of speech input by L2 listeners has been
widely researched, with particular attention to the consequences of inventory differences between languages (e.g., Polka,
1995; Guion et al., 2000; Best et al., 2001); without doubt the
most well-known and well-studied such inventory mismatch
is the English /r/-/l/ contrast for Japanese listeners, (e.g.,
Underbakke et al., 1988; Bradlow et al., 1997; Ingram and
Park, 1998, Cutler et al., 2006). Speech processing by listeners with a different dialect of the same language has received
somewhat less research attention, but recent studies have
documented challenges presented by this less radical mismatch also. Sumner and Samuel (2009), for instance, found
that speakers of a General American dialect can have problems in recognizing words produced with a New York accent,
Floccia et al. (2006) likewise found an initial processing cost
for a different dialect in word recognition tasks, and Otake
and Cutler (1999) found that cross-dialect perception of Japanese words exhibited lower sensitivity to information in the
signal (d0 ) and a higher degree of bias (b) toward lexical
knowledge. Cross-dialect difficulties in phoneme perception,
however, seem to be of lesser magnitude than cross-language
difficulties. Cutler et al. (2005) asked Australian, American,
and Dutch listeners to identify American English vowels in
meaningless CV and VC syllables, and found that overall, the
Australian and American listeners performed equally well,
although the Australians were systematically affected by the
tendency to greater vowel tenseness in their native dialect
(reporting, for example, /O/ as /A/ more than vice versa). The
Dutch listeners’ overall performance, however, was significantly worse, suggesting that language differences have
greater consequences than dialect differences for the perception of phonemes.
In neither the cross-language nor the cross-dialect case
has there been substantial attention to the processing of connected speech phenomena. We found one cross-dialect study
of cues to syntactic structure, namely, palatalization and
intervocalic flapping in American English (Scott and Cutler,
1984), and one cross-language study of a word-level process
in French (Darcy et al., 2007). In the former study, British
English listeners failed to use cues used by American English listeners, while in the latter study, compensation for consonant-to-consonant voicing assimilation—which occurs in
French, but not in English—was observed in native French
J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 130, No. 3, September 2011
listeners and also, to a lesser degree, in English learners of
French (note, however, that general auditory processes contribute to this compensation; Mitterer et al., 2006a,b).
The present study, then, addresses the /r/-insertion found
in nonrhotic British English and how it is perceived, by native
listeners and by listeners with another language or another dialect. This insertion process induces acoustic evidence for /r/
that cannot be attributed to an underlying or orthographic representation. On the basis of the above literature summary we can
make certain, albeit cautious, predictions of our likely results.
First, studies of native listeners’ processing of other connected speech phenomena suggest that our British English
listeners should be able to make effective use of whatever
acoustic cues there are that distinguish intrusive from canonical /r/. That is, if we succeed in establishing the presence of
the acoustic differences predicted by Cruttenden and Gimson
(1994), and manipulate these differences along a continuum
from one type of /r/ to the other, the native listeners’
responses should essentially track our manipulation.
Second, based on L2 listening studies with phonetic segments, we predict that our cross-language listeners will not
succeed in matching this native sensitivity. The /r/ insertion
process is, as noted, unknown in Dutch. Dutch dialects exhibit conspicuous variation in the way /r/ is produced (van
de Velde, 1996; van Bezooijen, 2005), but no dialect is nonrhotic in the way British English is. There is thus no scope in
Dutch for either linking /r/ or intrusive /r/. In the three cases
meer (“more”), meer tijd (“more time”) and meer appels
(“more apples”) the final /r/ in meer is pronounced, and in no
variety of Dutch is /r/ ever inserted in contexts such as na
appels “after apples” (Giegerich, 1992; Gussenhoven and
Broeders, 1997; Collins and Mees, 1999). For these listeners
we predict that exposure will be, as in the phoneme perception cases, of little relevance. The target English pronunciation taught in Dutch schools and universities is actually
British English (see, e.g., Gussenhoven and Broeders, 1997;
Collins and Mees, 1999), and British radio and television
can be received in all households; note further that foreignlanguage productions shown on Dutch television channels
are subtitled, never dubbed. Despite this opportunity for
wide exposure, Dutch listeners consistently fail to distinguish minimal word pairs in English as a result of phoneme
inventory mismatches (Weber and Cutler, 2004; Broersma
and Cutler, 2011), and we predict that the /r/-insertion process will also mismatch with the L1 expectations to an extent
that these listeners’ identification responses will differ significantly from those of the native listeners.
Third, on the basis of the existing small sample of interdialectal studies we predict that the cross-dialect listeners
should at least outperform the cross-language listeners. As
noted above, vowel inventory mismatches across dialects
have a lesser effect on vowel identification than mismatches
across languages, and the word processing effects reported
by Sumner and Samuel (2009), Floccia et al. (2006) and
Otake and Cutler (1999) were all of lesser magnitude than
the comparable cross-language interference effects (e.g.,
Ingram and Park, 1998; Broersma and Cutler, 2011); further,
the cross-dialect disadvantage in the Floccia et al. study was
in fact only temporary.
Tuinman et al.: Perception of intrusive /r/
Emma (r) ejected the cassette.” In all pairs, a member of a
minimal pair such as eject/reject followed a word ending on
a low vowel (e.g., Emma). Trivially, the r-initial member of
the pair in the sentence will trigger pronunciation of an /r/.
More importantly, the vowel-initial member of the pair together with the preceding low vowel (in this case, the last
vowel of Emma) creates a context in which intrusive /r/ can
appear. The sentences are listed in the Appendix.
A list was constructed in which all sentences occurred,
in random order and, to obscure the purpose of the study,
interspersed among 208 filler sentences. The list was
recorded by a female native speaker of British English from
the London area who normally produces intrusive /r/s in her
casual speech. Each crucial sentence with /r/ was recorded at
least twice. Further repetition was required for any token
produced with hesitation. The complete data set for acoustic
analysis contained 127 tokens: 72 sentences with an /r/-initial word, 55 with a vowel-initial word. One /r/-initial word
was preceded by an intake of breath and was not measured.
Of the 55 tokens with vowel-initial words, three contained
an intervocalic glottalization. The remaining 52 contained an
intrusive /r/.
Moreover, opportunity for exposure may be more relevant in the case of varieties of the same language than in the
case of different languages, since there is evidence for rapid
perceptual adaptation across varieties (Evans and Iverson,
2004). Our American listeners were tested in Philadelphia,
where a rhotic variety is the norm. Most dialects of American
English are rhotic (i.e., the /r/ in more is always pronounced
in the English translation equivalents of the above Dutch
utterances: more, more time, more apples). These varieties are
unlikely to exhibit intrusive /r/ even in casual speech, as a
complete search of the Buckeye corpus of conversational
speech (Pitt et al., 2007) revealed. We isolated from this corpus all 4698 instances in which /r/-insertion would be possible
between a word ending in a non-high vowel followed by a
vowel-initial word (the licit context for the British English
process). In none of these is there /r/-insertion. In three cases,
/r/ is transcribed at the word boundary, but this always stems
from the words involved rather than from insertion (e.g.,
“camera either” produced as “camreither”).
However, some US dialects are nonrhotic (these are said
to show “r-dropping” i.e., are distinguished from the rhotic
majority, while British varieties that are rhotic are likewise
distinguished from the local nonrhotic majority by being
referred to as “r-pronouncing,” e.g., Wolfram and SchillingEstes, 2006). These would show a British-like pattern
whereby more would have no /r/, more apples a (linking) /r/,
and saw apples possibly an intrusive /r/. Note that even the
Boston accent, perhaps the most widely referred-to nonrhotic
US variety, is moving toward rhoticity (Wells, 1982; Trudgill, 1986; Irwin and Nagy, 2007). Nevertheless, American
listeners are likely to have heard nonrhotic varieties both of
American English, and, via the media at least, of British
English. This may even suffice to support performance parallel to that of the British native listeners.
At issue in our study is the extent to which listeners
report the presence of a phonetic segment /r/ in materials
varying in amount of acoustic evidence for intrusive versus
canonical /r/ at a word boundary. Given that we predict that
at least one listener group could have difficulty exploiting
our acoustic manipulation, we incorporate further variation
in the materials as a basis for comparison with the acoustic
/r/ evidence. Previous reports suggest that non-native listeners may rely to a greater extent than native listeners on both
orthographic information (Escudero et al., 2008) and semantic information (Bradlow and Alexander, 2007). Thus we
vary orthographic support for a final /r/ (i.e., we contrast the
word more versus the word saw before the boundary) and
semantic support for a canonical /r/ interpretation (we compare a context weakly favoring rice after the boundary with
a context offering no such support). For each listener group
we then compare whether their responses are based on
acoustic evidence alone, or take account of orthographic and
semantic factors as well.
We measured both the duration of each intrusive or
onset /r/, and the decrease in intensity from the vowel preceding /r/ to the lowest point in the /r/. All /r/ tokens were
measured by the first author and one token of each sentence
was also measured by the second author as a reliability
check. The correlation between the two measurements was
high (duration: r ¼ 0.72; intensity difference: r ¼ 0.95). All
measurements are listed in the Appendix.
Both predicted differences appeared in this speaker’s
productions. Overall, onset /r/s were longer [F(1,124)
¼ 8.74, p < 0.01]; the measured onset /r/s were on average
89 ms, while the intrusive /r/s averaged 69 ms. Onset /r/s
also displayed a larger intensity decrement from the preceding vowel to the lowest point [F(1,124) ¼ 10.79, p < 0.01];
the mean intensity decrement for onset /r/s was 7.9 dB, and
for intrusive /r/s 2.2 dB.
To ascertain the potential usefulness of these patterns
for listeners, we calculated a power estimate, the Cohen’s d
difference score (mean difference divided by standard deviation; Cohen, 1992). Values of Cohen’s d above 0.8 are held
to indicate a large effect size. Cohen’s d for the durational
difference was 1.6, and for the intensity decrement 1.9. Thus
these measured differences between onset and intrusive /r/s
have an effect size that is sufficiently large to support potential perceptual use by listeners. Whether listeners—native
and non-native—can indeed distinguish between the two
types of /r/ on the basis of acoustic evidence was then tested
in perception experiments, using a 2AFC task.
A. Materials
A. Participants
We created 27 pairs of English sentences contrasting an
onset and an intrusive /r/. An example sentence is “And then
The three perception experiments involved respectively
18 native speakers of British English recruited from the
J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 130, No. 3, September 2011
B. Measurements and discussion
Tuinman et al.: Perception of intrusive /r/
participant pool of the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology of the University of Sussex, 18 native speakers of Dutch
from the Max Planck Institute participant pool, and 14 native
speakers of American English from the participant pool of
the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science of the University of Pennsylvania. None reported any hearing impairment. All were volunteers and were paid a small fee for their
participation. The Dutch participants had a high level of proficiency in English as a second language; on average, they
had received seven years of English instruction in primary
and secondary education.
B. Materials
Four experimental sentence frames (see Table I) were
constructed, crossing an orthographic bias with a semantic
bias for the perception of /r/. In each sentence token presented in the perception tests, listeners’ task was to judge
whether they heard ice or rice.
The orthographic factor contrasted the words saw versus
more preceding the target word (r)ice. As the phrase more
ice includes an /r/ in the spelling, a perceived /r/ in the
speech signal can be attributed to more, while in the case of
saw ice, an /r/ sound cannot be ascribed to spelling. An
orthographic bias should therefore manifest itself in terms of
more reports of rice after saw than after more.
The semantic manipulation contrasted sentence frames
with the context the social worker and given to the poor versus frames with the little girl and given to her brother. To ascertain the extent of the bias, 15 native speakers of Dutch and
16 native speakers of English (5 Australasian, 3 British, 8 US)
rated the acceptability of the words ice and rice in four (written) sentence contexts, on a seven-point scale. The contexts
were constructed by crossing the two frames with the two
adjectives extra or more before the critical word. An analysis
of variance (ANOVA) with sentence subject (girl, social
worker), adjective (extra, more) and object (ice, rice) as independent variables revealed similar patterns for the two language groups. For neither group was there a significant effect
of adjective (F < 1 for Dutch speakers, F [1,15] ¼ 4.1,
p > 0.05 for English speakers), nor did this factor interact
with other factors (Fs [1,14] < 3, pMin > 0.1; Fs [1,15] < 4,
pMin ¼ 0.07); that is, the ratings were unaffected by whether
the sentence referred to extra or more (r)ice. However, there
was for both groups a significant interaction of the subject and
object factors (F [1,14] ¼ 74.1, p < 0.001; F [1,15] ¼ 27.3,
p < 0.001), with higher ratings for rice (6.5 for Dutch speakers, 6.6 for English speakers) than for ice (2.9, 3.8) when
social worker was the subject, but no significant preference
for either object (rice: 5.4, ice: 5.9 for Dutch speakers, rice:
6.1, ice: 5.7 for English speakers) when girl was the subject.
The social worker sentences were thus assumed to be somewhat biased to rice rather than ice, while the little girl sentences were unbiased. A cross-group analysis revealed the
semantic bias effect to be stronger for the Dutch than for the
English group (F [1,29] ¼ 6.5, p < 0.05).
Although our acoustic measurements showed that both
the duration of /r/ and the intensity drop from vowel to /r/
differed across intrusive versus canonical cases, intensity
and duration trade off for perception of events shorter than
200 ms (Coren et al., 1994, pp. 234–235). This means that
within this range, altering duration of an intensity drop has
the same perceptual effect as altering the extent of the intensity drop. For this reason, we chose to vary our materials
along a single parameter, namely, duration.
To implement the acoustic manipulation, we constructed
our sentences using MBROLA (Dutoit et al., 1996), a speech
synthesizer based on diphone concatenation. The same
female native speaker of British English who produced
the materials for the acoustic measurements served as a
model. This speaker first recorded the four sentence frames
in Table I several times. The most fluent recordings without
hesitations were chosen as the model sentences. The durations of all segments and the course of the pitch contour of
each sentence were measured. These measurements were
then used to create synthetic tokens of the same sentences,
with MBROLA taking as input the list of phonemes plus
prosodic information (phoneme durations, pitch contour) to
produce speech samples. Four native British listeners then
judged these output tokens and further improved them by
adjusting the phoneme durations and pitch contour to render
them even more natural. Final versions were then created in
which all constant portions were identical in duration across
the four sentences. Thus every occurrence of saw had exactly
the same duration in each sentence, and so did every occurrence of more. Similarly, the duration of the phonemes /ai/
and /s/ was constant in all versions of (r)ice. The only nonconstant parameter was the duration of /r/; this varied from
25 ms to 121 ms in seven quadratic steps (see Fig. 1). This
range of durations ran from somewhat longer than the shortest of our speaker’s measured tokens of intrusive /r/ at 10
ms, to somewhat shorter than her longest measured canonical /r/ at 128 ms.
C. Design and procedure
There were three independent variables: (1) the duration
of /r/ at the critical word boundary; (2) the orthographic
TABLE I. Sentence materials.
Ice bias
Semantic Context
Less rice bias
More rice bias
The little girl saw more ice/
rice was given to her brother
The social worker saw more
ice/rice was given to the poor
J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 130, No. 3, September 2011
Rice bias
The little girl saw ice/rice
was given to her brother
The social worker saw ice/
rice was given to the poor
Tuinman et al.: Perception of intrusive /r/
FIG. 1. Percentages of rice identifications in perceptual experiments with British English, American English and Dutch listeners, as a function of the duration
of /r/ at the word boundary in the input, the orthography of the pre-boundary word (more vs saw), and the semantic context of the sentence (the little girl … to
her brother vs the social worker … to the poor).
manipulation: sentences with more (r)ice versus with saw
(r)ice; (3) the semantic manipulation: sentences with the little girl versus the social worker as subject. The dependent
variable was the percentage of rice responses in each cell of
the design.
In all three countries, the experiments were conducted
on a standard PC running the NESU software. Participants
were tested one at a time in a quiet room. They wore Sennheiser headphones, sat at a comfortable reading distance
from the computer screen and had a two-button response box
in front of them. Instructions were given in English (also to
the non-native participants); these informed participants that
on each trial they would hear an English sentence and see
the words ice and rice on the computer screen. They were
asked to press the right button labeled rice if the sentence
they heard contained the word rice, and to press the left
button labeled ice if the sentence contained the word
ice. The 280 stimulus sentences (seven /r/-durations four
sentences 10 repetitions) were presented in a random order
which was different for every participant.
The experiments started with four practice trials. Each
trial (practice or experimental) began with 150 ms of blank
screen, after which the words ice and rice appeared in the
upper left and upper right corners of the screen. After a further 450 ms the sentence was presented over the headphones.
From the onset of /r/ in the sentence, participants had four
J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 130, No. 3, September 2011
seconds to press one of the buttons. Their response caused
the other word to be removed from the screen, so that it
could be seen that the answer had been registered by the
computer. If participants did not respond within this time
limit, a stopwatch appeared on the screen to remind them to
react more rapidly. After each button press, the next trial
started after a one-second interval. Participants could take a
break after every 50 trials and continued when they were
ready. Additionally, reaction times (RTs) were recorded
from onset of the target word (r)ice, although the percentage
of rice judgments was the principal dependent variable.
D. Results and discussion
Figure 1 shows the percentage of rice judgments as a
function of the three independent variables, separately for
each experimental population. It is clear at a glance that the
three groups’ response patterns all differed from each other.
British English listeners produced four closely similar functions for the four sentences, with a smooth categorical curve
along the durational continuum. For both the other groups
there was, however, separation between the response functions for sentences with saw (squares) versus more (circles),
suggesting that each of these groups was affected by the
orthographic factor. However, the two latter groups’ functions are far from identical; they differ in relative categorical
Tuinman et al.: Perception of intrusive /r/
shape, in degree of separation between the more and the saw
sentences, and in whether or not there is a difference
between the little girl and the social worker sentences.
longer /r/ as a canonical /r/ in onset position, shorter /r/ as an
intrusive /r/.
2. Non-native listeners
1. British English listeners
The native listeners’ responses were analyzed first. Individual means for each combination of /r/-duration, orthography, and semantic context were calculated. These means
were then logistically transformed (see, e.g., Dixon, 2008,
for the necessity of such transformation) and subjected to an
ANOVA with Orthography, Context, and /r/-duration as independent variables. This analysis revealed no significant
main effect of Orthography [F(1, 17) ¼ 4.4, p > 0.05], no
main effect of Context (F < 1), but a significant effect of /r/duration [F(6, 102) ¼ 379.1, p < 0.001], reflecting the
increasing proportion of rice responses as duration of the /r/
In addition, there were two significant interactions: a
two-way interaction between orthography and /r/-duration and
a three-way interaction between orthography, context, and /r/duration. To examine these interactions, ANOVAs with the
independent variables orthography and context were conducted on all levels of the /r/-duration continuum. Effects of
orthography and context were only observed at steps 2-4 of
the /r/-duration continuum (as is visible in the British English
panel in Fig. 1). At step 2, there was an effect of orthography
[F(1, 17) ¼ 8.2, p < 0.05], with more rice responses when
there was an orthographic bias against an onset-/r/ (15% rice
responses after more vs 9% rice responses after saw; note that
these percentages are based on the estimated marginal means
transformed back from log odds to a percentage value). At
step 3, there were effects of both orthography [F(1, 17) ¼ 5.9,
p < 0.05]—again in the unexpected direction (29% rice
responses after more vs 19% after saw)—and context [F(1,
17) ¼ 12.2, p < 0.01], also in the unexpected direction (girl:
35% rice response, social worker: 27%). At step 4, there was
a significant interaction between orthography and context
[F(1, 17) ¼ 11.3, p < 0.01]: the effect of context was in the
expected direction for saw sentences, but in the opposite
direction for more sentences (see Fig. 1).
The native listeners’ response pattern is thus driven by
the acoustic evidence for /r/, with no systematic effect of either of our other two manipulations. These listeners treat
The performance of the Dutch listeners and of the American English listeners was then compared to that of the native
listener group. Table II shows the interaction terms (with the
language factor) arising from these two analyses. It can be
seen that the two groups differ in similar direction (though often in differing degree) from the British English listeners.
In both cases the interaction of language and /r/-duration
was highly significant, reflecting the lesser dependence of
the two non-native groups’ responses on the duration manipulation, compared with the native group. In the figure, this
can be seen as flattening of the response curves across the
duration continuum, in comparison with the categorical
function evident in the native responses. In both cases, also,
there was an interaction of language with orthography;
although there was no main effect of the orthographic factor
in the native responses, there was such an effect for each of
the non-native groups. This can be seen in the figure in the
separation of the response functions for saw sentences versus
for more sentences for each of the non-native groups, but not
for the native group. Further, in both cases there is a threeway interaction of language, orthography and /r/-duration;
this reflects the fact that, as noted above, there was a reverse
effect for a few points on the /r/ continuum for the native listeners, but always an effect in the predicted direction for the
other two listener groups. This interaction for the Dutch listeners is stronger and also captures the flattening of the saw
sentence curves visible in the figure.
Two interactions with language appeared only for the
Dutch listeners: they showed a main effect of semantic context (visible in Fig. 1 as a consistent slightly higher proportion of rice responses to social worker than to girl sentences)
shown by neither of the other groups, and they alone showed
a three-way interaction of language, context and /r/-duration.
The latter reflects the fact that the context effect for Dutch
listeners was constant over the /r/-duration continuum, which
was not the case for British English listeners (again, see
Thus neither non-native group produced a response pattern mimicking that of the native group. The Dutch group,
TABLE II. Interaction terms for ANOVAs comparing British English listeners with Dutch and with American English listeners. Asterisks denote significance
level of interaction (* ¼< 0.05; ** ¼< 0.01; *** ¼< 0.001).
Native Language
Interaction terms for the comparison with BE listeners
Semantic Context
Orthography * Context
Orthography * /r/-Duration
Context * /r/-Duration
Orthography * Context * /r/-Duration
J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 130, No. 3, September 2011
American English
6, 204
6, 180
Tuinman et al.: Perception of intrusive /r/
with a different native language, differed from the native listeners more strongly than did the American group with only a
varietal separation. This difference of relative similarity to the
native group can be seen in Fig. 1, and is evident in the F-values which differ by more than an order of magnitude across
the two analyses in Table II. Finally, note that the mean RTs
of the British and American English listeners also did not differ (688 vs 690 ms), while the responses of the Dutch listeners
were much slower (mean 952 ms). Subanalyses of the British
English data revealed no difference between participants with
slow versus fast mean response times; neither of these subsets
showed either an effect of context or an effect of orthography
in the expected direction.
The results of our perceptual experiments closely followed
the predictions laid out in the Introduction. First, the durational
differences between intrusive and canonical /r/, revealed by our
acoustic analyses, formed as predicted the basis of the response
pattern by native listeners. Second, listeners with another language failed as predicted to match the native sensitivity to the
acoustic patterning of this connected speech process. Third, the
responses of cross-dialect listeners resembled the native pattern, though again they did not match it.
In confirmation of the claims in phonetic descriptions of
intrusive /r/ (Cruttenden and Gimson, 1994), the speaker
whose utterances we analyzed made consistent and substantial acoustic distinctions between the tokens of canonical /r/,
in word onset position, and the tokens of /r/ she intruded
between vowels at a word boundary. We predicted on the basis of the perceptual findings from other connected speech
processes that the difference between the two types of /r/
should then be easily accessible for native listeners. In this
respect, intrusive /r/ thus patterns similarly to other linking
phenomena that have been tested in both speech production
and perception, such as liaison in French, whereby segments
not pronounced in citation-form utterances of a word will
surface in running speech when the word precedes a wordinitial vowel. Such liaison segments are also significantly
shorter than the same segments’ canonical pronunciations,
and listeners resolve ambiguity by exploiting the segment
duration (Spinelli et al., 2002, 2003). In that there is always
an orthographic source for the surfacing segment, the phenomenon of liaison in French actually resembles British
English linking /r/ more closely than intrusive /r/; we would
predict that British listeners could similarly exploit segment
duration to identify a linking /r/. The present results demonstrate that they can certainly distinguish intrusive from canonical /r/ on the basis of acoustic evidence alone.
The responses of the British English native listeners
were highly categorical: short /r/s were reported as intrusive,
long /r/s as canonical. These listeners made no use of the
other factors that we had built into the materials; the semantic context had no impact on their responses at all, and the
only statistically noticeable effect of the orthography comparison was in the direction opposite to what an orthographic
sensitivity would induce. In fact, the latter result could also
have arisen purely from durational processing. In natural
J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 130, No. 3, September 2011
speech, a sentence complement that does not begin with a
conjunction is often signaled by a prosodic break, in the
form of pre-boundary lengthening and initial strengthening
of the post-boundary onset phoneme (Cho et al., 2007). After
saw, but not after more, the critical word (r)ice in our materials began the complement. If British English listeners interpreted a long /r/ after saw as a preboundary-lengthened
intrusive /r/ rather than as an (insufficiently lengthened)
onset /r/, their tendency to fewer rice responses after saw
just in the ambiguous portion of the continuum would, like
every other aspect of their response pattern, attest to their
fine-grained sensitivity to the durational structure of their
native speech.
Neither the sensitive appreciation of the acoustic realization of /r/ shown by the native British listeners, nor their
concentration on the acoustic information to the exclusion of
other variation, were replicated in the two non-native listener
groups. Here our predictions were again borne out in that
while both groups showed similar differences from the British listeners, the cross-language difference was much larger
than the cross-dialect difference. First, both non-native
groups produced shallower identification functions than the
British group over the /r/ duration continuum; that is,
although they too attended to the acoustic manipulation,
their use of it was less sensitive than that of the native listeners. Second, both American and Dutch listeners were
affected by the written form of the words they heard, and
gave fewer onset /r/ responses when the /r/ sound could have
been attributed to the letter r in more, which, as we saw, the
native listeners did not do at all. In each case the discrepancy
between the native and the non-native results was greater for
the cross-language than for the cross-dialect comparison.
Finally, further differences appeared in the cross-language
but not in the cross-dialect comparison: Dutch listeners were
the only ones who showed sensitivity to the semantic bias
built into our materials, and were the only ones to allow orthography to modulate their use of durational information.
Our prediction that listeners with another language
would fail to show nativelike performance with intrusive /r/,
despite high proficiency in the target language, was motivated by the evidence from non-native phoneme and word
perception. In the particular case of Dutch listeners to English, high listening proficiency and wide exposure to native
input does not stop these listeners experiencing substantial
confusion between minimal word pairs differing only in a
contrast that appears in English but not in Dutch (e.g., the
vowels in cattle versus kettle, or the word-final voicing distinction in robe vs rope; Broersma and Cutler, 2008, 2011).
Our present results suggest that unfamiliar phonological
processes can cause similar confusion. Although, as already
noted, British English is widely available in the Dutch media
and is the target pronunciation taught in Dutch schools and
universities, the process of /r/-insertion, like all other casual
speech phenomena, is not explicitly taught. Moreover, the
process is completely absent from Dutch.
Previous findings also underlay our decision to incorporate in our materials both an orthographic and a semantic
manipulation, and as in the prior cases (Escudero et al.,
2008; Bradlow and Alexander, 2007), each manipulation
Tuinman et al.: Perception of intrusive /r/
had a significant effect on the response patterns of our crosslanguage listeners. Though offline judgements had suggested
that English-speakers were also sensitive to our semantic
manipulation (albeit to a lesser extent than Dutch-speakers),
in practice neither English-native group based their
responses on this factor.
Contrasting with the performance of our Dutch listeners,
advanced L2 learners tested by Darcy et al. (2007) could to
some degree compensate for a type of assimilation unfamiliar
from their L1, as noted in the Introduction. However, although
both assimilation and /r/-insertion fall into the general class of
connected speech phenomena, they are in many ways different. Assimilation alters the nature of the evidence for a segment (e.g., its place of articulation or voicing), but insertion
adds evidence that is in principle compatible with an additional segment. Assimilation occurs widely across languages
and listeners can compensate for unfamiliar assimilation processes in languages they do not know (e.g., general auditory
processes allow Dutch listeners with no knowledge of Hungarian to compensate for the Hungarian assimilation process
by which /lr/ sequences become /rr/; Mitterer et al., 2006a,b).
The /r/-insertion process, in contrast, is far less common. It is
certainly not an automatic process in speech production; the
cross-boundary vocalic sequences that trigger it in British
English also feature in varieties of English which do not show
this insertion, as well as in Dutch and other languages which
likewise do not show it. Further, though the process is widespread in British English (Foulkes and Docherty, 1999), some
speakers variably suppress it for socially motivated reasons
(Broadbent, 1991; Gussenhoven and Broeders, 1997). (Note
that the resulting variable occurrence may make it yet more
difficult for non-native listeners to interpret an intrusive /r/
correctly when they hear one.) Our results show that the perceptual processing of /r/-insertion patterns quite differently
from that of assimilation; non-native listeners do not respond
to it as native listeners do.
In the cross-dialect case, however, our study suggests
that the listening difficulty resulting from /r/-insertion is not
of the same order as the difficulty experienced by the crosslanguage listeners. In this our results are in line with those of
Cutler et al. (2005), who found that a dialect mismatch
caused less difficulty in phoneme perception than a language
mismatch. In our experiment, American listeners did not
attain native listener levels in their categorization of intrusive versus canonical /r/, and they were sensitive to the
orthographic factor ignored by the native listeners, but the
strongest influence on their responses came, as with the
native listeners, from the durational evidence for /r/.
From the small literature on cross-dialect speech perception, it appears that different varieties of the same language
can encourage attention to different cues to the same contrast
(e.g., Miller and Grosjean, 1997; Kirby, 2010); but the flexibility that speakers of the same language show in speech perception can allow rapid adjustment, especially if contextual
cues are available. Thus within regional dialects of American English, Clopper and Bradlow (2006) found that perception of predictable sentences in noise was not adversely
affected by a speaker/listener mismatch in regional dialect,
and Sumner and Samuel (2009) found that General Ameri1650
J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 130, No. 3, September 2011
can speakers’ difficulties in recognizing words produced
with a New York accent could easily be removed by semantic priming. Otake and Cutler (1999) found that suprasegmental structure differences across accent did not adversely
affect accuracy of interpretation in minimal-pair decisions,
although, as already noted, signal-detection measures
showed that listeners with a mismatching dialect were both
less sensitive to acoustic cues to the distinction in question,
and more susceptible to bias. Floccia et al. (2006) observed
that adjustment to regional accent occurred during their
experiments. Within regional dialects of British English,
Evans and Iverson (2004) showed that listeners could alter
their goodness rating for vowels according to the dialect
(northern versus southern) of the carrier phrase in which the
tokens occurred. Interestingly, this pattern of alteration was
shown by northern speakers who had been living for years in
a southern dialect area, but not by northern speakers who
had remained living in the north (despite the fact that the
southern variety is dominant in British media so that the
northern listeners would have been regularly exposed to it).
This latter result raises the possibility that the value of
exposure may principally be felt at the higher exposure
ranges. Immersion, in other words, can produce learning
though more or less regular encounters with a particular variety cannot. Further evidence for this may be found in the
findings of Scott and Cutler (1984), who studied British listeners’ perception of connected speech processes in American English. British listeners are (and were at the time of
Scott and Cutler’s testing) regularly exposed to American
speech via television and cinema. Nonetheless, the Britishresident listeners did not succeed in matching American listeners’ performance at deriving syntactic information from
the patterns of cross-word-boundary flapping (e.g., to distinguish If you want to eat, early lunch will be served from If
you want to eat early, lunch will be served). A group of British residents of Chicago, however, did show nativelike ability to do this, and interestingly, their ability to do it was not
correlated with length of residence, which varied from one
to 30 yr. The perceptual learning which, within the native
language, efficiently supports adjustment to new talkers
(Norris et al., 2003), can lead to adjustment to a new variety
if the majority of talkers one encounters every day use that
The perceptual adjustment to dialectal varieties that these
findings indicate does not appear to hold for different latelearned languages, however. Immersion does not remove the
perceptual difficulty of phoneme repertoire mismatch for second-language listeners (e.g., Ingram and Park, 1998). The
advantage of a largely identical phoneme repertoire, vocabulary and higher level linguistic processes across varieties of
one and the same language supports perceptual learning for
speech in a way that cannot be equaled across languages. The
connected speech processes that affect phoneme realization,
we conclude, pattern similarly in this respect to the more
well-studied processes of phoneme identification.
In conclusion, our results show that native listeners efficiently exploit the durational cues which are reliable correlates of /r/-insertion. Listeners of another language exploit
these cues less effectively, and fall back on semantic context
Tuinman et al.: Perception of intrusive /r/
and orthographic information. Listeners with a different dialect are more native-like than listeners with a different language. That is, native listeners keep Laura Norder in her
place, listeners with another dialect also know where Laura
should go, and only non-native listeners are not sure what to
do with her.
This research was supported by a research stipend from
the Max Planck Society and a Fulbright grant, both awarded
to the first author. We thank Alan Garnham for making the
British English listener population available, Delphine
Dahan for making the American English listener population
available, Leah Roberts for recording the speech materials,
and Laurence Bruggeman for technical assistance. The
acoustic measurements of /r/ were reported to the 16th International Conference of Phonetic Sciences, Saarbrucken
(Tuinman et al., 2007).
A few days ago, I saw aces when I looked at
my cards.
A few days ago, I saw races from the British
Superbike Championship.
I heard that Canada aided the area of Lesotho
in Africa.
I heard that Canada raided the area of Lesotho
in Africa.
I really thought that I saw air burning.
I really thought that I saw rare animals.
Did you know that the terracotta ear of the
statue was broken?
Did you know that the terracotta rear of the
statue was broken?
My brother likes extra ice when he has dinner.
My brother likes extra rice when he has
I think that Rebecca owes a lot to London.
I think that Rebecca rows a lot to London.
In north Malaysia itches are number one on
the list of annoyances.
In north Malaysia riches are frowned upon.
And then Emma ejected the cassette.
And then Emma rejected the cassette.
I read that people from China etch whenever
they feel like doing so.
I read that people from China retch whenever
they feel like doing so.
My youngest sister saw odes to Rome made
by many different people.
My youngest sister saw roads to Rome made
by many different people.
I saw on Discovery Channel that people in
Panama ate cows’ eyes in former times.
I saw on Discovery Channel that people in
Panama rate David as the nicest city.
Mean /r/
duration (ms)
Mean intensity
J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 130, No. 3, September 2011
Mean /r/
duration (ms)
My favorite grandma aged because her dog
suddenly died.
My favorite grandma raged because her dog
suddenly died.
Do you think it was sepia ash on her body?
Do you think it was sepia rash on her body?
We had not expected it, but suddenly Natasha
emitted a cry of pain.
We had not expected it, but suddenly Natasha
remitted the money to us.
Usually, Sheila elates everybody with her
Usually, Sheila relates well to other people.
The Broadway musical “Clarissa” evolves into
a deeply moving metaphor for the struggles of
an entire generation.
The Broadway musical “Clarissa” revolves
around a young American girl in London.
I read that the president of Algeria evokes the
idea of using nuclear weapons.
I read that the president of Algeria revokes his
decision to cut taxes.
I heard that the Australia alley is a nice street
to live in.
I heard that the Australia rally lasts two
For Buddhists in India enunciation is of great
For Buddhists in India renunciation is part of
their daily lives.
We asked the children to draw apt presents for
Mother’s Day.
We asked the children to draw wrapped
presents for Mother’s Day.
Obviously, the bourgeois eye expert was bragging about his salary to his Harvard friends.
Obviously, the bourgeois rye expert was bragging about his salary to his Harvard friends.
Davidson and Brooks claim to be thorough
Davidson and Brooks claim to be thorough
The president of Russia eagerly awaits his
The president of Russia regally decorated his
new office.
In this area anglers are still ice fishing.
In this area wranglers are experienced horseback tour guides.
In postwar America aches and pains are usually ignored by people without health
In postwar America rakes and planes are sold
in hardware shops.
You should use extra old cheese in this recipe.
You should use extra rolled oats in this recipe.
I think that the extra ink cartridges were too
I think that the extra rink did not result in
more ice skaters visiting it.
Mean intensity
Tuinman et al.: Perception of intrusive /r/
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