Speech Prosody 2012

Shanghai, China
May 22-25, 2012

Lexical Tone Perception in Early Infancy

Ao Chen, René Kager

Institute of Linguistics Uil OTS, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

In order to shed light on the perceptual reorganization of lexical tones in the first year of life, in the current study, we tested Dutch native infants (6, 9, 11-month-old) on their discrimination of Mandarin Chinese high rising tone (T2) and low-dipping tone (T3) using a visual fixation paradigm. The infants were habituated on multiple tokens produced by two female native speakers, carrying either Mandarin T2 or T3, and were then tested with two test trials in which the same tone as occurred in habituation (same trial), and the other unheard tone (novel trial) alternated. Their looking time to the same trial and the novel trial were used as indicator for discrimination. Contradictory to earlier studies, 6-month-old Dutch infants failed to discriminate between these two tones while on the other hand, 9-month-old and 11-month-old infants succeeded in doing so. However, if the infants were split in two groups according to the habituation tone, only those who were habituated on T3 were able to discriminate the contrast. The results are discussed from the perspectives of acoustical property of the contrast and perceptual bias reflecting T3 sandhi asymmetry.

Index Terms: lexical tone, language acquisition, perceptual reorganization

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Chen, Ao / Kager, René (2012): "Lexical tone perception in early infancy", In SP-2012, 230-233.