Mandarin and English listenersí perception of Mandarin tones in isolation and in context

Tessa Bent

A comprehensive model of cross-language speech perception must account for all aspects of phonological structure. However, current models focus primarily on phonemic categories and exclude cross-language perception of prosodic structure. The cross-language interaction of prosodic categories in non-native listeners is difficult to model in current frameworks because multiple prosodic units must be considered as possible sources of transfer and interference including lexical tone, word stress, pitch accent, and phrasal intonation patterns. This study tested the hypothesis that perception of non-native prosodic contours is affected by both the relationship between the native and non-native languagesí prosodic contour categories and the unit length over which the contours apply. Native English and Mandarin listenersí discrimination of the four Mandarin lexical tones in isolated monosyllables and three-syllable sequences was tested. Reactions times to correctly discriminated "different" trials were entered into a multidimensional scaling analysis. In the English listenerís similarity spaces, the configuration of the four lexical tones differed in the three-syllable context compared to their perception in isolation. In the Mandarin listenerís similarity spaces, the isolated tones were arranged in triangular formation with the rising and dipping tones in close proximity but for the three-syllable stimuli, all tones were well separated. [Supported by NIH/NIDCD]



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