The 4th International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages

Nijmegen, The Netherlands
May 13-16, 2014

The Role of Individual Differences in Cognitive Ability in Tone Processing in Cantonese: Preliminary Findings

Jinghua Ou (1), Sam-Po Law (1), Roxana Fung (2), Sabrina Ho (1)

(1) Division of Speech and Hearing Science, the University of Hong Kong
(2) The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Sound variations are persistent in the phonological system of all languages. Such variations, at the individual level, are exhibited by different patterns of perception and production. Recent studies have suggested individual differences in cognitive abilities as important sources of variability in speech processing. Yet, how different aspects of speech processing are associated with different components of cognitive abilities remains unclear. The present study aims to systematically assess the relationships between tone processing and various components of attention and working memory in the auditory and visual modalities among normal Cantonese-speaking individuals using a series of published tools. The individual variations in tone processing are captured in an on-going sound change – tone merging in Hong Kong Cantonese, in which normal native speakers are reported to lose the distinctions between tonal contrasts in perception and/or production. Three groups of participants have been identified, with one group of good perception and production of the six contrastive tones in Cantonese, a second group of good perception but poor production and a third group of good production but poor perception. The present findings suggest that domain general cognitive abilities including visual working memory and auditory attention switching/ control may contribute to an individual's speed in tone discrimination, and possibly play a role in sound change.

Index Terms: individual differences, tone perception, tone production, Cantonese, cognitive ability, sound change

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Ou, Jinghua / Law, Sam-Po / Fung, Roxana / Ho, Sabrina (2014): "The role of individual differences in cognitive ability in tone processing in Cantonese: preliminary findings", In TAL-2014, 50-53.