The Validity of Likeability as a New Construct of ESL Pronunciation

Hmoud Alotaibi


The most significant constructs of ESL pronunciation models are accentedness, intelligibility, and comprehensibility (Derwing & Munro 2005; Jenkins, 2000; Pickering, 2006). It is clear though that the assessment of these characteristics shows no consideration for the potential affection of the assessor towards the speaker. Thus, the study presented here proposes a notion named “likeability” (L) to examine whether the ratings of listeners are determined in part by the esteem in which they hold the speaker. A questionnaire compiled by Murphy (2014) was given to 11 US and 11 ELLs. Participants were provided with three YouTube links of interviews of Nelson Mandela, a former President of South Africa, Ban Ki-Moon, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Bandar Bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States. The first hypothesis of the study is that the American raters would be harsher in their judgments of Ban Ki-moon and Bin Sultan due to the political conflict and the dramatic events that have been associated with them in the past but this would not be the case with Mandela who has many ardent admirers in the U.S.A. The second hypothesis is that the participants among the international group who share the language background of the speaker would rate that speaker more highly than the others. Unexpectedly, however, both US and ELL listeners rated Mandela the lowest in terms of comprehensibility and Bin Sultan the most comprehensible. All the participants in the international group provided similar ratings regardless of whether they share the language background of the speaker or not. The paper concludes with a suggestion for more thorough investigation of the concept of likeability in selecting ESL speech models, particularly with assigning speakers with different professional fields, ethnicity, and language background. This investigation is crucial in finding the most suitable models for pronunciation teaching.

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