Pitch perception and surprise in Mandarin Chinese: Evidence for parallel encoding via additive division of pitch range

Xiaoluan Liu, Yi Xu


´╗┐This study addressed the question of how multiple layers of meanings can be simultaneously encoded with F0 in speech by assessing pitch perception thresholds of focus and surprise in Mandarin Chinese. We synthetically increased the pitch height of one syllable in a sentence up to 12 semitones from its neutral baseline in one-semitone steps, and asked listeners to judge the strength of focus and surprise conveyed by the manipulated utterances. Results showed that for the perception of focus, at least 4 semitones above the baseline were needed while for surprise, at least 7 semitones above were needed. Despite the threshold difference, there was a downward overlap of surprise with focus, i.e., the range of 7-12 semitones above the baseline signalled both focus and surprise. These results suggest that the pitch perception threshold for focus in Mandarin may be higher than that in non-tonal languages due to the use of F0 for lexical contrast in Mandarin. They also reveal, more intriguingly, an encoding mechanism of additive division of pitch range. That is, a higher-level function such as surprise is encoded by using additional pitch ranges beyond that used by lower-level functions such as focus and lexical tone, without harming the encoding of the lower-level functions.


DOI: 10.21437/TAL.2016-28

Cite as

Liu, X., Xu, Y. (2016) Pitch perception and surprise in Mandarin Chinese: Evidence for parallel encoding via additive division of pitch range. Proc. Tonal Aspects of Languages 2016, 129-132.

Bibtex
@inproceedings{Liu+2016,
author={Xiaoluan Liu and Yi Xu},
title={Pitch perception and surprise in Mandarin Chinese: Evidence for parallel encoding via additive division of pitch range},
year=2016,
booktitle={Tonal Aspects of Languages 2016},
doi={10.21437/TAL.2016-28},
url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/TAL.2016-28},
pages={129--132}
}