Identifying non-native accent in Russian

This is my poster for my phonetics project for which I posted a previous blog. I submitted my 20 page paper and have(hopefully) graduated.
I asked the question can learners of Russian as a second language (L2) identify native and non-native accent in Russian.

I had 9 speakers: 1 was native Russian, 3 were American, 1 was Polish, 3 were Armenian, and 1 Mongolian. They recorded the following sentence:

В принципе они жили нормально в Грузии, но я считаю, что в будущем они не должны жить так далеко от нас.

I had 24 Listeners: 8 native Russians and 16 students who were studying Russian at the University.
I asked them to identify the speaker as either ‘native’  or non-native.  I defined ‘native’ as being one who grew up speaking Russian in the home with parents.  postersmall

So my study found that L2 Learners of Russian can identify foreign accent, but that identifying it in speakers from USSR satellite countries was problematic. The fact that even the Native listeners had a hard time saying whether these speakers were native or non-native suggests that there is some serious ambiguity surrounding the term ‘native speaker’ in the case of Russian.
Essentially what I proposed in my paper was that the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ are insufficient in Russian. Because certain speakers (the Armenians) were considered by native listeners to
a) have no accent, were native
b) have an accent–not-native
c) have an non-native accent, but were still considered native
Strange phenomenon in light of all the previous research that has been done on foreign accent detection.
The Armenians and the Mongolian speaker fooled both the American learners of Russian(L2) and the native listeners.

I would love to know if anyone has information about the status of the Russian language during USSR.  All of my Armenian speakers considered Russian to be their second language…Many Russian listeners identified them as having a Caucausian accent, but still called them native…why is this? 

To listen to the samples you can go to my previous post:

What does an Armenian accent sound like? Аканье, оканье–в чем состоится?

Мне очень интересно знать есть ли такие исследование по акцентам (по-русски) разных народов СССР–(на пример, что характиризуется грузинского акцента с которым Сталин говорил?)

Thanks to those who helped with this project!  I’m very happy to have it over with.  I hope you find it interesting.

4 thoughts on “Identifying non-native accent in Russian

  1. Hi Janey –

    Would it be possible to get a bigger version of the chart in this post? I’d really like to be able to read the details there. This is a fascinating topic. Спасибо.


  2. The reason for this – the Soviet Union . We had one major country where the Russian language is the same family. Caucasian accent easily recognizable, but not always. If a person has lived long time in Russia, you will not find a difference in most cases. Caucasians are often told rudely by and confused – he and she. Armenians closer to the Russian language. As for the foreigners. It’s very simple accent always heard. Since the mispronunciation. And the methods are different pronunciation of the speech itself. Although there are foreigners who have lived a long time in Russia and has no accent. In contrast to the English language. Russian has almost no accent. Since all schools in Russia are studying the same language is the same. The same curriculum is the same everywhere in the difference from the West.
    Good day, Jenny!!

  3. Hey Janey,
    привет с филфака!
    I’m not sure whether you’re still interested in the topic, but I listened to the recordings in the video and I must say that none of the speakers you had recorded had a strong, typical Mongolian or Georgian accent. Moreover, I suspect that those speakers weren’t quite the type of people that usually have an accent. A couple of thoughts come to mind:
    -The strength of the accent of non-Russian speakers from the post-Soviet countries almost completely depends on whether or not Russian is the main language spoken in the family. I’d say that more than a half of the ethnic minorities in Russia use Russian as their primary language.
    -The majority of the Georgian and Mongolian population in Russia are not first generation immigrants, and many families have a history in Russia that dates back to the Russian Empire. Think of second or third generation Polish or Mexican immigrants in America: do most of them have a strong accent? I’d figure most of them would have little to almost no accent at all.
    -Did your Georgian and Mongolian speakers even speak Georgian and Mongolian? If not, do they spend much time with people that have a strong accent?
    -Did they go to school in Russia? Perhaps, they even live here?

    I found your thoughts extremely interesting and, as a fellow MSU philologist, I couldn’t help but to post a long, boring comment ^^

    And thank you so much for the great blog! You are doing Russians a great favor by doing this! There’s so much hate towards Russia in press nowadays, and your blog is like a gulp of fresh air amidst an all-out media war. It’s exactly what the people really need – not just positive coverage, but something strong, true and passionate – and heart-touching at the same time. I often find myself sitting with my laptop the whole night through, browsing through tons and tons of russophobic sites and blogs and articles and what not, and in the end of it one just starts to lose faith, one starts to think – what if we truly are the bad guys of the world, stupid, filthy and good for nothing, always guilty, never right? What sense there is to deny something that so many hold to be self-evident? What if all really is lost for us?
    And tonight would be just the same – if it wasn’t for your blog! Your burning heart, your insights, your passion, your kind words – it is all here, and it all brings a smile on one’s face, makes one wonder about life and remember the good times. It all makes sense to you again, and you find the confidence that so many search for but can not find.
    Thank you so much for this!
    Спасибо тебе за всё, родная! Живи, где хочешь, а всё-таки ты – наша!
    Из России с любовью,

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