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Recently I was wondering whether some languages are inherently more comprehensible when spoken, than others. Has this been measured in any way?

To make things more precise, let's define a "please say again" (PSA) phrase a remark uttered by someone who didn't get the last sentence. In English, "Pardon me", "Say again", "What's that?" etc. could count as PSA phrases.

One way to possibly measure oral comprehensibility is to record a conversation between people in a language they speak as mother tongue, and count, how often PSA phrases occur.

Has this been done, or has oral comprehensibility been compared in another way? Or is there no meaningful way to measure and compare oral comprehensibility?

  • Is this about Languages or Dialects? If Languages, I think every language is most comprehensible to the native speaker i.e. the person who has the language as the mother tongue would find it most comprehensible naturally – WiccanKarnak Jan 15 '18 at 16:23
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    @Dominic I have also wondered about that! Years ago, as a foreign teenager in the US, I couldn't understand the "Eeeverything, eeeverything..." in the verse of this song. Upon asking two of my native-speaker friends, I was very surprised to hear that they also could not understand what was being sung there. To the best of my knowledge, that NEVER happens to Spanish speakers in my native Mexico when listening to Mexican singers (though it may happen to us when the singer is from another Spanish-speaking country). – suckrates Jan 15 '18 at 17:05
  • So you're basically asking if there is an experimental method for determining mutual intelligibility between two arbitrary languages:dialects/varieties? – Mitch Jan 16 '18 at 0:40
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    @AlvaroFuentes Though it could also be because of the music, rather than the language itself... – WavesWashSands Jan 16 '18 at 9:00
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    @AlvaroFuentes Thanks for sharing this experience! For me it's the same: I am a foreign speaker of English, and also of Italian (at a much lower level) -- but I understand Italian songs better than English songs! – Dominic van der Zypen Jan 16 '18 at 9:44
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The project INCOMSLAV looked at the mutual intercomprehensibility of Slavic languages using many different methods including the intercomprehensibility of spoken language. You may be interested in their publications on how they did that.

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  • Thanks for your pointer; the mutual intellegibility question is very interesting, but in this question I am focussing on intellegibility within one language: is Italian "inherently more intellegible" when spoken between Italian native speakers from the same region, than (say) English, when spoken between English native speakers from the same region? I had this idea that Italian, with its clear vowels, and consonant sequences ("Milano", "Roma") might be easier on the ear than English ("Aberystwyth"), but it is well possible that this theory is nonsense. – Dominic van der Zypen Dec 20 '18 at 15:22
  • See also this answer: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/29247/… – jk - Reinstate Monica Dec 20 '18 at 15:28
  • The same techniques that work for different standardised languages work also for dialects—linguistically there is no real difference between "language" and "dialect". And yes, even between speakers of the same language mutual intelligibility is not neccessarily 100%. – jk - Reinstate Monica Dec 30 '18 at 19:45

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