Do Dutch people speak English better if they are at least a little bit tipsy? RUG researcher Martijn Wieling intends to find out at the Lowlands music festival.
Translation by Traci White
Slurring your speech and talking at a louder volume than normal are well known side effects of drunkenness, but does alcohol influence how well you speak a second language – or just make you think that you are better at it than you really are?
Dagblad van het Noorden reports that during the Lowlands festival, which takes place between the 17th and 19th of August, researchers from the University of Groningen will be testing the impact of alcohol on fluency in a second language. A portion of the programme of the popular music festival is dedicated to research – Lowlands Science.
Martijn Wieling, a researcher in the computational semantics department at the faculty of arts at the University of Groningen, will work together with Pauline Veenstra, Jidde Jacobi, Stefanie Keulen, Lisanne de Jong, Teja Rebernik and six research assistants to see whether or not Dutch people actually speak English better once they have had a couple of drinks.
After administering a breathalyser to determine how much the festival participant in question has had to drink, the researchers will place a helmet on their head, a microphone under their mouth and an ultrasound scanner on their chin. The participating test subjects will read English and Dutch texts out loud, and the ultrasound device will monitor how their tongue moves as they speak.
The researchers want to test both sober and more inebriated festival-goers to compare their results, but they will not be testing anyone with a blood alcohol content higher than two milligrams per litre. The researchers hope to evaluate hundreds of test subjects during the three-day festival in Biddinghuizen.
Wieling expects that the Dutch pronunciation of the participants will be deemed worse under the influence, but their English pronunciation may actually improve: the pronounced accent that many Dutch people have when speaking English may be less strong as alcohol influences the way a speaker’s tongue moves. “With a little bit of alcohol in your system, you are probably less self-conscious and less afraid to speak a foreign language”, Wieling adds.
Similar research by the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King’s College London found that bilingual people were better able to speak their second language after a small dose of alcohol. Even though alcohol impairs cognitive and motor skills, the increased self-confidence and decreased anxiety caused by drinking translate into improved ease and fluency in a second language.