This study examines the mutual intelligibility between all 225 pairs of 15
Chinese dialects, in two main branches, i.e., six Mandarin dialects and
nine non-Mandarin (Southern) dialects. The dialects (often distinct
languages by western standards) differ in the richness of their lexical
tone inventories, ranging between four (in most Mandarin dialects) to as
many as nine (in Guangzhou/Cantonese). Judgment (how well do listeners
think they understand the speaker?) and functional (how well do speakers
actually understand the speaker?) intelligibility tests were used. A
methodological question was whether (fast and efficient) judgment testing
may serve as a viable substitute for (laborious) functional intelligibility
testing. Dialect fragments were also monotonized in order to estimate the
importance of pitch variation for intelligibility in tone languages. Also,
a large number of objective linguistic distance measures were collected,
either copied from the literature or computed by the author on existing
language resources. A systematic attempt is made to determine how well the
judgment and functional intelligibility scores can be predicted from each
other and from (combinations of) objective linguistics distance measures.
Mutual intelligibility testing affords a single dimension along which the
degree of difference between language varieties can be expressed. The
hypothesis is tested that the agglomeration trees generated from mutual
intelligibility scores correlate strongly with linguistic taxonomies
expressing family relationships among languages and dialects.
This study should be of interest to linguists, more specifically
dialectologists, dialectometrists and phoneticians.