Pronunciation is always a hot topic. Most people have very strong views on it, and it's often a very important and difficult part of any language. Since I'm not really a big speaker, I find pronunciation a bit tedious, not to mention boring. But, I do realize the importance of it, and just like anyone else, I like a bit of self-torture, so by no means do I ignore the matter. However, I have been thinking about how good different people are at understanding people with shaky pronunciation (and I'd really like some comments on this matter, cause these are just speculations), so that's the matter I will discuss today: pronunciation, grammar vs. no grammar and ambiguity. I will do a more hardcore Pronunciation Exclusively post later.
Let's start with English speakers. Aren't they quite good at understanding various sorts of mistreated, bastardized versions of their language? Even if a word is pronounced wrong (which can, after all, easily happen in English), don't people usually understand which word it is? Or is it just non-natives who are good at this with other non-natives? When someone says a word to me in Swedish that sounds wrong, I think I automatically rely on spelling to find out what word he/she really meant. If the person said /kyrka/ I would realize that the intended word was /shyrka/, since it is after all spelled "kyrka".
Another possible factor in this is the difference between languages that rely on grammar for meaning, and languages that rely on context for it. Are those who speak grammar poor languages and who have to look to context a whole lot more apt at analysing the entire sentence to find the sense of it, rather than relying on perfect caption of the words? Now, take Russians. Their language is extremely clear in its structure, everything has it's specific shape in a specific function, you don't go around wondering "wait, who the hell is the subject really? and whose what are we talking about??" - if the sentence is correct, it is usually all understandable to begin with. Even I can understand tricky texts! The grammar makes it all possible, whereas in Swedish (and possibly in English too, although I have the impression that it is often punctuation which muddles things in English), you have to watch your tongue and make sure not to lose your interlocutor among your subordinate clauses.
Just to not lose everyone, let's take some examples from Wikipedia on Swedish "phrase braids" ;).
Chefen tycker jag är konstig. (Word to word: The boss thinks I am weird)
This can mean "The boss thinks I am weird" and "I think the boss is weird".
Imorgon vet jag vilken dag det är. (Word to word: Tomorrow I know what day it is)
This can mean "Tomorrow I will know what day it is" and "I know what day it is tomorrow".
Or this one from another source:
En ponny äter inte mer än en schäfer per dag.
A pony doesn't eat more than a german shepherd does every day.
A pony doesn't eat more than one german shepherd a day.
So, what I am trying to get at is that people whose native languages are ambigous ones, may be more attentive to context and logic to figure out the sens of sentences, than those who speak more strict languages. What do you think?
And here of course pronunciation plays a great role as well. Do you understand a sentence in your native language if something important in it is mispronounced? If the emphasis falls on the wrong syllable of a word or if the wrong tone/vowel length (for Swedish) is used, giving a whole other word? I think English folks are good at it since English is so widely spoken and exists in so many different variants. From what I can remember of my first time in France, the French were awful at it. I had the impression that if I said [e] instead of [ə] the word was completely incomprehensible for them.
Does anyone have any interesting experiences with this? From what I remember in Russia, I think people were quite good at understanding me despite my faulty emphasises, but then I did also mostly speak with someone I knew well, and who knew "my Russian" well, so it's hard to say.