With an eye toward measuring the strength of foreign accents in American English, we evaluate the suitability of a modified version of the Levenshtein distance for comparing (the phonetic transcriptions of) accented pronunciations. Although this measure has been used successfully inter alia to study the differences among dialect pronunciations, it has not been applied to studying foreign accents. Here, we use it to compare the pronunciation of non-native English speakers to native American English speech. Our results indicate that the Levenshtein distance is a valid native-likeness measurement, as it correlates strongly (r = -0.81) with the average “native-like” judgments given by more than 1000 native American English raters.

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  • Figure 1

    Logarithmically-corrected pmi-based Levenshtein distance as a predictor of mean native-likeness (r = -0.81). See text for discussion.

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