NRSA research proposal description

My current objective is to further understand how the prosodic systems of native and non-native languages interact in naïve listeners and to begin to extend current models of second language sound structure acquisition, which focus exclusively on the segmental level, to the prosodic level. Specifically, I will test whether several of the hypotheses put forth in models of non-native segmental perception and production can be extended to non-native supra-segmental perception and production. In particular, I will test whether the following claims about segmental categories can be extended to supra-segmental categories: (1) the perceptual space is systematically warped by linguistic experience with specific segmental categories, (2) there is a systematic relationship between the perception and production of non-native segmental categories, and (3) differences across segmental categories are easier to detect than differences within segmental categories. These claims will be tested using participants from two languages, English and Mandarin, with vastly different prosodic systems. Mandarin is a language with lexical tone categories that affect word meaning and operate on the syllable level whereas English prosodic categories stretch over phrases and affect discourse meaning. The participants will be tested on their perception and production of Mandarin tones in one and three syllable Mandarin utterances. The experiments will include a multidimensional scaling experiment using perceptual similarity judgments, a production imitation task, and a perceptual discrimination task. In addition to the theoretical knowledge that can be gained from my studies, my findings will aid in the development of training procedures for second language learners.