Pronunciation Intelligibility of Nigerian Speakers of English
European Scientific Journal July 2019 edition Vol.15
Pronunciation Intelligibility of Nigerian Speakers of English
Fiyinfolu Olubunmi Idowu 0
0 London Brunel Int'l College, Brunel University , Uxbridge Middlesex , United Kingdom
The study examines the phonological intelligibility of Nigerian speakers of English. Specifically, it investigates the extent to which vowel quality in the speech of Nigerian Speakers of English affects 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 [?], [?:], and [?] caused intelligibility problems for international listeners.
English as a lingua franca; intelligibility; Nigerian English; pronunciation; teaching
pronunciation (either Received Pronunciation (RP) or General American
However, in recent years, the goals of English language teaching and
the notion of the native speaker (NS) as the norm provider are being
as a result of the rise of English as an international
language (EIL) and the reality that there are now more non-native speakers
(NNSs) of English than native speakers (NSs)
(Kachru &Nelson 1996;
Crystal, 2003; Kachru, 2005; Kirkpatrick, 2006; 2007b; Jenkins, 2007;
In line with these changes, a number of scholars have called into
question the issue of who owns the English language and consequently, who
is allowed to set the standards against which use is to be established. Jenkins
(2000) argues that no one denies the rights of ?native speakers? to establish
their own standards for use in interaction with other ?native speakers? and
even with ?non-native speakers?. However, the important question is: what
forms or models would be appropriate for successful interaction among
international L2 speakers. According to Jenkins, the view that ?native
speakers? do not own English as an international language (EIL) has been held
for a long time. Graddol, for example, asserted in his book, the future of
English, ?Native speakers may feel the language ?belongs? to them, but it will
be those who speak English as a second language or foreign language who will
determine its world future? (ibid:10). This position is expressed most
emphatically by Widdowson (1994) who wrote:
?How English develops in the world is no business whatever of native
speakers in England, the United States, or anywhere else. They have
no say in the matter, no right to intervene or pass judgment. They are
irrelevant. The fact that English is an international language means that
no nation can have custody over it. To grant such custody of the
language is necessarily to arrest its development and so undermine its
international status. It is a matter of considerable pride and satisfaction
for native speakers of English that their language is an international
means of communication. But the point is that it is only international
to the extent that it is not their language. It is not a possession which
they lease out to others, while still retaining the freehold other people
actually own it? (1994:385).
Given this reality of English, the concept of intelligibility has emerged as one
of the goals or the most important criterion for English language teaching. In
Trudgill?s words, there is ?a greater fear that English is now used so widely
around the world, and is in particular used by so many non-native speakers,
that if we are not careful, and very vigilant, the language will quite rapidly
break up into a series of increasingly mutually unintelligible dialects, and
eventually into different languages
, much like the splitting
up over time of Classical Latin into vernacular Romance languages
and Saraceni 2006)
To ensure mutual intelligibility in diverse societies, Quirk (1990)
maintains the need for a standard model of native English for international
communication. To him, the point of reference is necessarily an L1 variety of
English, and the standard for intelligible English pronunciation is set by L1
English listeners. This has set the stage for researchers of World Englishes
(The term ?World-Englishes? refers to the world?s multiple varieties of
English (Kirkpartick, 2007; Jenkins, 2009)), and English as a Lingua Franca
(English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) refers to communication in English
between speakers with different first languages including, possibly, NSs
(Jenkins, 2007; Seidlhofer, 2005)
) to make a case for which standards should
be used to determine the intelligibility of English for international
While an L1 English reference fits the research and teaching model for
L1 English contexts of usage, scholars of WE and ELF contend that many L2
speakers of English today will not be interacting mainly with L1 English
speakers. They assert that many L2 English users already speak their desired
target English variety, such as Nigerian English and Indian English, even if it
may not be an L1 variety of English. From the WE and ELF perspectives, L1
and L2 speakers of English are equally responsible for effective international
communication, and research in L2 English contexts and English language
teaching has been called upon to better reflect this new, more diverse global
This current paper aims to contribute to this research by examining the
pronunciation intelligibility of Nigerian speakers of English to both L1 and L2
listeners to help determine the priorities for pronunciation teaching of English
in the international context. In the specific context of Nigeria, this research is
important as statistics show that one out of every four Africans is a Nigerian
. For example, in 2017, the President of the Nigerian Medical
Association (NMA) told New Telegraph that between 10,000 and 15,000
Nigerian doctors are now practising medicine outside the country (Adeyemi
2017). Nigerians are scattered all over the world: Saudi, U.S. UK, and the
Soviet Union to mention but a few. Nigeria is the most populous black nation
with approximately 167 million people
and its size, natural
resource endowment, economy, and influence in global affairs have continued
to attract considerable scholarly and international companies? attention
(Adetula, 2013; 2015)
. Nigeria plays a major role in international politics and
has contributed to various peacebuilding and peacekeeping efforts in places
such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Congo- ECOMOG (Sule 2013). Also,
the country ranks as the fifth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions
(United Nations 2014). Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa. Oil
constitutes 75 per cent of government revenue, but rapid economic growth is
frequently found in the non-oil sector (IMF 2013: 8). Its main trading partners
include the European Union (EU), the United States, India, Brazil, and China
and international business is growing fast. Moreover, the number of Nigerian
students studying abroad has expanded due to this increase in international
Therefore, English language teachers are faced with students who will
need to use English predominately in an international context to communicate
with speakers from other first languages. Hence it is crucial to know the extent
to which there are difficulties in the speech of Nigerian speakers of English
when they communicate with other speakers from different linguist ic
Materials and Method
Six speech samples from six audio podcasts (broadcast materials) in
which five Nigerian Yoruba speakers delivered speeches were used to
determine the levels of intelligibility of Nigerian speakers of English. The
choice of all speakers is not intended to be representative of all Nigerian
Yoruba speakers; rather, it serves as a reflection of an elite subgroup of the
population. Two reasons informed the choice of speakers. The main reason
was that regardless of their identity as native Yoruba language speakers, the
selected speakers are listened to by a wide audience both nationally and
internationally. Thus, all five speakers, irrespective of their profession have a
significant role and impact in mass communication and a significant presence
on international platforms. Therefore, it is expected that communication for
them would encompass international audiences, and so they are expected to
be intelligible to a very wide audience. The second factor that determined the
selection of these speakers was a consideration of their native language. All of
them are Yoruba speakers. Preference was given to the Yoruba language
because of its significance and reach. It is one of the three national languages
used in Nigeria, and it is also used by a major ethnic group in Nigeria.
The six audio podcasts were presented to 100 international listeners
(made up of non-Nigerian speakers from 25 nationalities (See Appendix B))
to transcribe. Two different criteria were used in selecting international
listener participants. First, they had to be advanced English users, either
undergraduate or graduate, in order to ensure that they had reasonable
competence in English. Based on the findings by Eisenstein and Berkowitz
(1981) and Matsuura et al. (1999), non-native listeners with low proficiency
may not be able to deal with intelligibility (dictation) tests. In order to control
the effect of listeners? English proficiency level, all speakers of English from
different linguistics backgrounds participating as listeners in this present study
were required to have 7.0 score in International English Language Testing
System (IELTS) or its equivalent, with 7.0 score in Listening, speaking and
writing. This was considered to be essential because it ensures that the
researcher gets reliable intelligibility test data in this present study. Secondly,
listeners were not selected if they had prolonged experience communicating
with Nigerian speakers of English. Gass and Varonis (1984) argue that
familiarity with a non-native speaker?s speech, a particular accent and a
particular speaker all influence intelligibility.
Before the listening task, the listeners were informed of the speakers?
name, their profession and the situational context that informed the existence
of the podcasts. This was done in order to provide the listeners with a
framework within which to focus their attention
since it is rare
in a real situation to listen to speech or conversation in a complete vacuum
(Tiffen, 1974; Osle, 2013)
. However, the content of the speakers? text was not
disclosed to the listeners. The six excerpts were played once to the listeners.
The thought of playing the excerpts twice before the listening exercise was
considered, but this idea was later dropped because it would have created an
unnatural listening situation. In order to keep this as natural as possible, the
podcasts (divided units of utterance) were played once.
The listeners heard the utterances in meaningful listening units and
provided their responses on white sheets of paper by writing out the utterances
in the dictation exercise. They were required to transcribe as precisely as
possible what they heard in each of the six excerpts, and they were told to put
a dash or a bracket sign where they did not understand, or simply guess what
they thought they heard. Listeners transcriptions were used because they
present more permanent and easily verifiable records for further study and
(Tiffen 1974; Atechi, 2004; Matsuura, Chiba and Ara 2012;
Kashiwagi and Snyder, 2010)
After the completion of the listening and dictation exercise, listeners?
transcriptions were carefully inputted manually into the computer and checked
manually again for accuracy. This enabled the researcher to have personal
experience with the data. Various authors have raised a concern about using
(Cohen et al., 2011; Flick 2009)
. One of these
concerns includes creating a distance between researchers and data. The
listeners? transcriptions were used to locate instances of mismatch between the
speakers? recordings and the listeners? transcribed text.
Before discussing the results, this paper will describe the terms and
codes used in presenting the data.
Conventions and Terms Used in Presenting the Data
A Token represents a word that caused intelligibility breakdown for
listeners. For example, consider Extract 2.1
Extract 2.1 (Tokens 17 and 18)
Context: ?a lot of people don?t get to know that; I am an introvert
[??ntr?vat] person [?p??s?n]? (Speaker four, unit 7-8)
In this extract, the mid-central vowel /?: / in the last syllable of the
word ?introvert? and the initial syllable of ?person? were pronounced as [a]
and [??] respectively. This word caused problems with intelligibility for
listeners. The two words are separate tokens but represent one type or feature
and, in this case, the mid-central vowel /?: /. A single token may sometimes
consist of more than one word, particularly when a fixed phrase is involved.
Let me illustrate this with an extract from the podcast recordings. In extract
2.2, speaker three has been talking about establishing a business partnership
with China. He says:
Context: ?we want to be able/to have reasonable revenue from our
resources/if you want our resources/we need that our laws and rules
must be respected/we want infrastructure/ and if you can give us that/
yes, and we will pay for it either directly/or we will take loan at
reasonable interest rate [?n?tr?st?re?t]/ (Speaker three, unit 9-11)
Here interest rate consists of two words, but it is just one entity, so it
is treated as a single token of intelligibility breakdown.
Description for Codes used in tabulating the data in this study
As the data were tabulated (see results throughout for deployment), the
following codes were used.
NOL=This code refers to the number of listeners that experienced
ORP=(Orthographic Representation of Phoneme). This signals instances in
the data where listeners seemed to have orthographically represented the
sound they heard. For example: in Token 17, speaker four pronounced the
vowel in ?introvert? as the back vowel [a] rather than the mid-central vowel
quality [?:] which is expected in the reference accent (Received
Pronunciation). Four listeners transcribed the word as ?introvat? (phonetically
transcribed as [??ntr?vat]). This transcription shows that the listeners
recognised the sound [a] used by the speaker in the final syllable and they
orthographically represented this.
ORA=(Orthographic Representation Attempted). This code refers to instances
in the data where listeners appeared to have orthographically represented part
of a word apart from the syllable in which the pronunciation of a segmental
feature varied from the referent accent (RP). For example, ?introvert?
pronounced as [??ntr?vat] by speaker four was heard as ?intro????? by some
listeners. This listeners? response shows that part of the word or text (in this
case, the first and the second syllable in introvert) has been orthographically
represented, but the syllable in which the pronunciation of the speaker has
varied from the referent accent (RP) (in this case the final syllable in introvert)
is not recognised. Another example that belongs to the code ORA are cases
where listeners incorrectly orthographically represented a phoneme used by a
speaker. For example, introvert pronounced as [??ntr?vat] was transcribed as
?intellect? (phonetically transcribed as [??nt?lekt]). This transcription
demonstrates that the listeners recognised the [e] vowel in the final syllable
instead of [a] used by the speaker.
SA=(Semantically Appropriate). This refers to instances where listeners
seemed to have chosen words that make sense in their interpretation of
utterances. For example, three listeners transcribed ?I am an introvert person?
as ?I need the right person?. This listeners? text or transcription shows that
they have chosen words that are meaningful within the utterance but is not
contextually appropriate as it does not fit the context in which the utterance
CA=(Contextually Appropriate). This signals instances where listeners
seemed to have relied on the context or circumstances in which the utterances
were produced or cases where they may have resorted to their own previous
background knowledge in their interpretation of utterances. For example,
seven listeners transcribed ?keep? (pronounced with a short vowel length by
speaker one) as ?get? in the phrase ??whoever you are, keep your head
SC=(Syntactically Correct). This code refers to cases where listeners seemed
to have chosen words that are syntactically correct or appropriate. In other
words, they have used their syntactic knowledge to decode the meaning of a
NR=(No response). This code refers to instances where listeners did not write
anything for the word said by the speaker. For example, I am an introvert
(pronounced as [??ntr?vat]) person transcribed as ?I am an ?????? person?.
The table provided below presents an overview of each of the vowel quality
that was identified, alongside the number of instances of intelligibility
breakdown associated with each.
Mid-central vowel 9 (universalism)
[?:] 11 (early)
Mid-central vowel 7(moral)
[?] 8 (moral)
14 (interest rate)
Open-mid central 1 (other) 32
vowel 2 (nothing) 65
[?] 4 (must) 29
5 (Sundays) 30
6 (money) 26
10 (among) 25
13 (must be) 48
21 (budgeting) 43
22 (agriculture) 31
26 (buck) 50
Below, the vowels responsible for intelligibility breakdown shall be discussed
3.1 Mid central vowel /?: /
In Token 3, Speaker one pronounced the vowel quality in ?work? as
open-mid back vowel [?:] in the phrase ?so I work and rest together?. The
pronunciation of this word caused intelligibility breakdown for 24 listeners. A
further breakdown is given in the following table.
1 So, I walk and rest 24 listeners
The main issue with the pronunciation of ?work? here is the use of
open-mid vowel [?:]. Precisely the vowel that changes the meaning in the
minimal pair (In phonology minimal pairs are pairs of words which differ in
only one phonological element, such as a phone, phoneme, and have distinct
meanings) ?work? and ?walk?. It should be noted that apart from the word
work, there were three words in speaker one?s speech in which the mid-central
vowel quality [?:] could be expected in the reference accent (Received
Pronunciation). These words are ?versatile?, ?person?, ?working? (two
occurrences). The extract below shows the wider context in which these words
Context: ? and I?m supposed to be versatile [?v??s?ta?l] as an actress.
/So, playing Jennifer and playing other roles / has nothing to do with
my person [?p??s?n]. Well, I love my job so much / if I?m not resting,
I?m working [?w??k??] / even while working [?w??k??], I rest. /I?m a
producer; I?m a writer. /All my movies, I write them, and I produce
them / and I play the lead characters. / So, any spare time I have, I rest.
/ I work [?w?:k] and rest together?(Speaker one, unit 3-13).
While the speaker pronounced the first syllable of ?versatile? and
?person? with the mid-central vowel [?:] in the initial syllable, it caused no
intelligibility problems for listeners?. However, in the case of ?work?, there
were three instances where the verb form of ?work? was used in speaker one?s
speech (see extract 3.1). On two occasions, the speaker pronounced the first
syllable of ?working? with the mid-central vowel [?:], and this was completely
intelligible to all listeners. However, it was when she pronounced [?:] that
intelligibility failure occurred. Jenkins (2000) also drew a similar conclusion.
It is interesting to note that speaker one had so much variation in the way she
pronounced the mid-central vowel [?:]. It seems she has different lexical sets
(a lexical set is a set of words which are pronounced with the same vowel in
the reference accents
). So ?work? belongs in the lexical set with
?walk? and ?talk?, whereas ?versatile? and ?person? belong in the ?nurse?
lexical set. Although ?work? was in context and listeners had already heard
the word twice in speaker one?s excerpt, it caused intelligibility problems for
On the other hand, 76 listeners had no problem understanding the word
?work? as they transcribed it correctly. This could be because they relied on
the contextual information or circumstances in which the utterances were
produced. From the background context, ?work? would be an obvious word to
have in the utterance rather than ?walk? because speaker one in her previous
utterances is talking about her job. For these listeners, the context seems to
override pronunciation cues
(Matsuura, Chiba and Ara, 2012)
This paper has discussed one of the clear cases where the alternative
to the mid-central vowel [?:] vowel was the sole cause of intelligibility
breakdown. Now, it will move to consider one of the complicated tokens
where there appears to have been multiple factors that caused the breakdown.
In Token 11, Speaker three pronounced the word ?early? [??: li] as
[?ale?] in the phrase ?early in the twenty-first century?. Here, Speaker three
was talking about the period Nigeria established a business partnership with
China. He pronounced the first syllable of ?early? with a vowel variant [a], a
pattern that has been reported in Deterding (2011). In addition to this
pronunciation, this speaker used a different vowel length on the first syllable
and pronounced the vowel quality on the second syllable with a diphthong [e?].
This pronunciation of ?early? as [?ale?] caused intelligibility problems for 78
listeners as exemplified in the following table:
Listeners? responses NOL ORP ORA SA CA SC
As shown in the listeners? transcriptions above, all those who
misunderstood the word ?early? recognised the first syllable as ?I? [a?] in
?early?. The word ?I? has [a] as the first part of the initial diphthong which
suggests that the listeners have heard the pronunciation of open front vowel
[a] in the initial syllable of ?early?. This may explain why 60 listeners
transcribed ?I? in ?I lived?, ?I lay?, ?I let?, ?I led?, ?I reigned?, and ?I really?.
In addition to problems with the mid-central vowel, the vowel quality in the
second syllable may be a contributory factor to the intelligibility breakdown.
For instance, 12 listeners wrote ?I lay? in place of ?early?. This response is the
exact match of the speakers? pronunciation, and it reveals that they have
orthographically represented the two sounds [a] (in the first syllable) and [e?]
(in the second syllable) used by the speaker.
There are many semantic cues available to the listeners that could aid the
intelligibility of the word. But it seems the listeners have relied mainly on
pronunciation cues. The words they have suggested to fill the slot do not fit
the context of the word. Sometimes, it appears the listeners have used their
syntactic knowledge to help decipher the word they heard even when it does
not make sense.
32 listeners did not write anything for the word as indicated by the question
marks on their sheet. Of the 32 listeners, 14 wrote ?I?????. It is quite possible
that these listeners heard [a] but since they cannot relate what they heard to
?early?, they left the word and put question marks symbols to indicate that
they have a problem. This is just a speculation. The remaining 18 listeners did
not respond to the word. It is difficult to conclude on which of the two features
of pronunciation caused the problems for these 18 listeners
Mohamad, 2016; Deterding, 2014)
Could the first vowel be responsible, or could it be because of the
diphthongal pronunciation in the second syllable or a combination of the two?
The observation from the listeners? transcription is that listeners who
perceived and recognised the variant [a] are greater in number than those
unable to write something down. In sum, the findings suggest that patterns of
the mid-central vowel [?:] are a major contributory factor for the problem in
(Deterding and Mohamad, 2016; Deterding, 2010; 2011; Jenkins,
though this study cannot ignore the contribution of the second syllable
The following section is a consideration of another central vowel
responsible for intelligibility breakdown when international listeners listened
to Nigerian speakers.
3.2 Mid Central Vowel /?/ (Schwa)
In Token 7 and 8, speaker two pronounced the word ?moral? /?m?r?l/
as [?m?ra] and this caused intelligibility failure for listeners. Before
analysing these two tokens in more detail, the wider context in which they
occurred is given in the context below:
Context: I find the very notion of political correctness/ very
condescending. /hmm it?s an assumption of a kind of hmm hmm/
standing on high moral [?m?ra] grounds/ and hmm presuming that
others cannot quite attain/ that moral [?m?ra] height or even cultural
universalism? (Speaker two, unit 1- 6)
In the first occurrence of ?moral?, speaker two pronounced moral [?m?r?l] as
[?m?ra] in the phrase ?standing on high moral grounds?? (Speaker two unit
4). There are two segmental issues here and this paper will consider them in
turn. First of all, the vowel of the second syllable (/?/ for the reference accent)
was pronounced as vowel variant [a]. In addition to this, a pronunciation
variant lacking the dark [l] was used in the coda of the same syllable. This
distinct pronunciation led to 24 instances of unintelligibility with listeners who
responded as follows:
standing on high more grounds 9 listeners
standing on high ????? grounds 15 listeners
As shown above, 9 listeners wrote more which suggests that they
identified the first syllable but did not recognise the second syllable. This
response seems to suggest that the problem is in the second syllable. 15
listeners did not write anything for the word which may demonstrate that they
could not relate what they heard to the context in which the word was
As Speaker two proceeded with his speech, he repeated the word moral
/?m?r?l/ as [?m?ra] (see Extract 3.2) with the use of [a] in the second syllable
and the non-use of [l] in the same syllable. This pronunciation led to 32
instances of unintelligibility with listeners. Below are the listeners?
interpretations of the word.
Listeners? responses NOL ORP ORA SA CA SC
123 ttthhhaaattt ?mm?oo?ro?er?hh?ee?iigghhhettight 11471lillsiitssettneennereesrrss ??
In (1) of the transcriptions above,17 listeners failed to respond as they
did not write anything for the word ?moral?. It is difficult to say what the
problem is for these 17 listeners as they did not respond. However, what can
be inferred from those that misidentified ?moral? is that they perceived the
first syllable but did not recognise the final syllable, which suggests the issue
is in the final syllable. For example, in example (2) and (3), 11 listeners heard
moral as ?more? and four listeners as ?moor?. These responses imply that the
listeners recognised the first syllable but did not identify the second syllable
probably because of the full vowel [a] in the ultimate syllable and the
nonrealisation of dark [l].
Before leaving, mid-central vowel [?], this paper will look at Token 15
(See Table 3.1) where [?] was pronounced with a short lax vowel [?].
In Token 15, speaker three pronounced certain [?s?:t?n] as [?sat?n] with
the variant [a] in the first syllable and the vowel variant [?] in the second
syllable. This pronunciation caused intelligibility failure for listeners. Before
analysing this token in detail, the wider context in which it occurred is given
Context:What does China want from us? /China wants certain [?sat?n]
of our commodities/ to enhance their own development and keep it
going/ (Speaker three, unit 23-25).
The word ?certain? (pronounced [?sat?n]) caused intelligibility breakdown for
86 listeners. The examples below give listeners transcriptions of the word:
Listeners? responses NOL ORP ORA SA CA SC
China wants acting of our 15 listeners
cCohminmaowdaitnitessact in of our 11 listeners ?
cCohminmaowdaitsieasccess to our 1 listener ? ? ?
cCohminmaowdaitnitessfracting of our 4 listeners ?
cCohminmaowdaitnitesshalf of our 1 listener ? ? ? ?
aCchcionma owdaintitesssomething of our 9 listeners ? ? ?
cCohminmaowdaitnitesssatin of our 3 listeners ?
China wants??????? of (our 36 listeners
China wants??????? our economy 6 listeners
In this token, apart from the alternative to [?:] in the first syllable which
seems to be the main cause of intelligibility breakdown, the quality of vowel
[?] used by the speaker in the second syllable may be a contributory factor to
this intelligibility breakdown. This is because 42 out of those who
misunderstood the word certain perceived [?] in the final syllable of ?certain?
as seen in examples such as ?fracting?, ?satin?, ?something?, ?acting? and
The next section looks at the intelligibility breakdown arising because
of a distinct pronunciation of the referent sound /?/.
3.3 Open-mid Central Vowel /?/
In Token 2, Speaker one (a Nigerian actress) is talking about the role
she played in her recent movie. She pronounced the vowel in the first syllable
of ?nothing? as [?] where the reference accent would use [?]. Along with this
pronunciation, the onset of the second syllable was produced with an alveolar
plosive [t], while the coda of the same syllable was pronounced with an
alveolar nasal [n]. So, she said [?n?t?n] in the phrase ?? has nothing to do with
my person?. The wider context for the word is shown in extract 3.4.
Context: I am not worried because I?m an actress, / I should be able to
play any role/and am supposed to be versatile as an actress/so playing
Jennifer and playing other roles/has nothing [?n?t?n] to do with my
person? (Speaker one, unit 1-5)
The pronunciation of the word ?nothing? as [?n?t?n] caused
intelligibility breakdown for 65 listeners. This was one of the major
intelligibility breakdowns where [?n?t?n] was abandoned as they did not
transcribe the word. A number of explanations seem plausible for the cause of
the breakdown. Could it be the vowel quality used on the first syllable or the
consonants used in the second syllable?
The analysis suggests that the use of [?] was the cause of intelligibility
breakdown in this case while the use of alveolar plosive [t] for dental fricative
[?] and alveolar nasal [n] for velar [?] seems not to have been an issue for
respondents. Three sets of findings support the argument. (1) The word
?nothing? occurred in speaker four?s speech and was pronounced as [?n?t?n]
(with alveolar plosive [t] and alveolar nasal [n]) in ?so that nothing gets
missing in it?. But this did not cause intelligibility problems for listeners as
they all found the word intelligible. (2) All the time the Nigerian speakers in
my study used an alveolar nasal [n] for velar [?] in ?things?, ?everything?,
?something?, ?going?, ?missing?, ?housing?, ?getting?, these variations did
not hamper their intelligibility. This finding contrasts with Jenkins (2000),
who included velar nasal [?] as part of the features that are critical for
maintaining intelligibility in her Lingua Franca Core. (3) The Nigerian
speakers in my study most of the time pronounced the voiced dental fricative
[?] with an alveolar plosive [t]. This could be because the Yoruba language
(the speakers? L1) and most Nigerian languages lack the dental fricative /?/
(Jibril, 1982; Simo Bobda, 1995; 2007; Adetugbo, 2009)
. For example,
?things? was realised as [tins], ?everything? as [?evrit?n], ?somethings? as
[?s?mt?nz], ?thought? as [t??t], ?think? as [t?nk], and ?growth? as [?r??t]).
But these usages did not hamper intelligibility in my study. This
result echoes the research result of Deterding (2013) and Jenkins (2000;
2006). The reason why this intelligibility was not affected can partly be
explained by the fact that in reality, some native speakers also do not use these
sounds /? ? /, as many in London use [f, v] instead
(Wells, 1982: 328)
some in Ireland and New York City use [t, d] (or dental stops)
. When dental fricatives are ?replaced?, a wide range of sounds may
occur instead. Not only are [f, v] used by some native speakers and [t, d] by
others, but [f, v] are also used by speakers from Hong Kong (Hung, 2000), [t,
d] occur throughout Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
(Deterding and Kirkpatrick, 2006)
, African English
, and [s, z]
may also occur with speakers of English from many different countries
including Germany (Swan, 1987) and China (Chang, 1987; Ho, 2003). So, in
token 2, it is highly likely that this breakdown arises from the use of an
openmid back vowel [?] on the first syllable and not the use of variant [t] and an
alveolar nasal [n].
In Token 26, Speaker six is talking about a newly formed Nigerian
political party, which he launched to provide a platform for people of flawless
character who have withdrawn from the Nigerian political arena due to
corruption. In his speech, he called on people of like minds to register as
members of the party that will provide an alternative for what he described as
a corrupt and morally bankrupt system. He says:
Context: /? there are many voiceless people in Nigeria/ and
sometimes even when they have a voice, / when they have a
platform/for the expression of their voice, /they find they cannot really
relate/ to any of the existing political parties. /this is especially so /of a
very idealistic youth / hmm who feel that there is no point trying to
buck [b?k] the system? ? / (Speaker six, unit 15-19).
Here, the speaker pronounced the idiom ?buck the system? as [b?k ?? ?s?s
t?m]. It can be observed that in this phrase, the vowel in the word ?buck? is
pronounced with an open back vowel [?]. This pronunciation may have
caused intelligibility breakdown for 50 listeners who responded as follows:
Listeners? responses NOL ORP ORA SA CA SC
who feel that there is no point trying 15 listeners
to???? the system
who feel that there is no point trying to 17 listeners
back the system
who feel that there is no point trying to 5 listeners
block the system
who feel that there is no point to bock 10 listeners
who feel that no point to bog the 1 listener
who feel that there is no point to bog 1 listener
boke the system
who feel that there is no point to bop 1 listener
As shown in the transcriptions above, 15 listeners did not write down
anything for the word, suggesting that they did not understand the
pronunciation of the word. 17 listeners were unable to identify the word buck
hearing it as ?back? which suggests that they heard the vowel quality in buck
as a front vowel [ae]. Five listeners heard buck as ?block? [?bl?k] which
suggests that these listeners recognised some of the phonetic cues they heard
and made a guess that seems to fit the context. Ten listeners heard buck as
?bock? which demonstrates that their attention was primarily focused on the
pronunciation of [?] and this probably is the main issue that caused
intelligibility breakdown. The remaining three listeners wrote ?bog?, ?boke?
and ?bop? respectively which suggest the vowel quality used by the speaker
is the cause of intelligibility breakdown. Overall, the fact that all the listeners
who failed to understand or who misunderstood buck were confused by the
vowel quality led to the conclusion that the use of [?] was the major cause of
unintelligibility. It is also possible that the use of the idiomatic phrase to buck
the system (this phrase is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as ?to fight
against the usual way of doing something?) is not familiar to listeners. This
may have contributed to these listeners being unable to guess the target word
4. Summary of Results
As discussed above, the findings indicate that the alternatives to central
vowels [?:], [?] and [?] seems to be an issue for international listeners
(nonNigerian speakers of English). There were eight tokens of intelligibility
breakdown when a vowel variant was used where many users of English
would use the mid-central vowel [?:]; ten tokens when a distinct pronunciation
was used where users of English would use [?] and nine tokens when a variant
was used where many speakers of English would use [?] (see Table 3.1).
5. Pedagogical Implications
Looking at the results of this study, it is clear that some features of the
pronunciation of English by speakers from Nigeria are more important for
international intelligibility than others. Specifically, the central vowels [?:],
[?], and [?] are features of pronunciation English teachers in Nigeria should
work on in their teaching; but there is less need to pay attention to dental
fricatives /?/, /?/, and velar nasal [?]. For example, in this study, the use of
alveolar plosives [t], [d] for dental fricatives /?/, /?/ occurred 20 times and
the realisation of velar nasal [?] as alveolar nasal [n] appeared 15 times
(Banjo, 1971; Jibril, 1982; 1986; Simo Bobda, 1995; 2007; Udofot, 2007)
But these variations did not cause phonological unintelligibility on a single
occasion. This illustrates one point that there is no need always to use RP or
?imitate? the pronunciation of the ?ideal native speaker?.
The present study focused on the intelligibility of English spoken by
educated Nigerian speakers?, with a special focus on 100 international
listeners. Thus, the findings of this research might not be applicable to all
Nigerian English speakers, and to non-Nigerian speakers at different
proficiency levels. Future studies may generate new insights and extend
current knowledge by replicating this study with different groups of speakers
The current research has indicated a rich and fascinating vein of work
required to contribute to current knowledge and understanding of English
intelligibility in the Nigerian context. Specifically, the research has added
greatly to the understanding of the segmental features of pronunciation that
hamper the intelligibility of Nigerian speakers when they communicate both
in international and intranational contexts. As discussed, this understanding
forms a useful foundation for reconsidering how English pronunciation is
taught in Nigerian schools.
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