Free classification of regional dialects of American English

Cynthia G. Clopper, David B. Pisoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Recent studies have found that naïve listeners perform poorly in forced-choice dialect categorization tasks. However, the listeners' error patterns in these tasks reveal systematic confusions between phonologically similar dialects. In the present study, a free classification procedure was used to measure the perceptual similarity structure of regional dialect variation in the United States. In two experiments, participants listened to a set of short English sentences produced by male talkers only (Experiment 1) and by male and female talkers (Experiment 2). The listeners were instructed to group the talkers by regional dialect into as many groups as they wanted with as many talkers in each group as they wished. Multidimensional scaling analyses of the data revealed three primary dimensions of perceptual similarity (linguistic markedness, geography, and gender). In addition, a comparison of the results obtained from the free classification task to previous results using the same stimulus materials in six-alternative forced-choice categorization tasks revealed that response biases in the six-alternative task were reduced or eliminated in the free classification task. Thus, the results obtained with the free classification task in the current study provided further evidence that the underlying structure of perceptual dialect category representations reflects important linguistic and sociolinguistic factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-438
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

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