The 4th International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages

Nijmegen, The Netherlands
May 13-16, 2014

Perception of Birth Language Tone Contrasts by Adopted Chinese Children

Wencui Zhou (1,2), Mirjam Broersma (2)

(1) Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics; (2) Radboud University;
Nijmegen, the Netherlands

The present study investigates how long after adoption adoptees forget the phonology of their birth language. Chinese children who were adopted by Dutch families were tested on the perception of birth language tone contrasts before, during, and after perceptual training. Experiment 1 investigated Cantonese tone 2 (High-Rising) and tone 5 (Low-Rising), and Experiment 2 investigated Mandarin tone 2 (High-Rising) and tone 3 (Low-Dipping). In both experiments, participants were adoptees and non-adopted Dutch controls. Results of both experiments show that the tone contrasts were very difficult to perceive for the adoptees, and that adoptees were not better at perceiving the tone contrasts than their non-adopted Dutch peers, before or after training. This demonstrates that forgetting took place relatively soon after adoption, and that the re-exposure that the adoptees were presented with did not lead to an improvement greater than that of the Dutch control participants. Thus, the findings confirm what has been anecdotally reported by adoptees and their parents, but what had not been empirically tested before, namely that birth language forgetting occurs very soon after adoption.

Index Terms: birth language, tone contrasts, perception, Cantonese, Mandarin

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Zhou, Wencui / Broersma, Mirjam (2014): "Perception of birth language tone contrasts by adopted Chinese children", In TAL-2014, 63-66.