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Processing of word-level stress by Mandarin-speaking second language learners of English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 October 2016

University of Kansas
University of Kansas
University of Kansas
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Zhen Qin, Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas, 1541 Lilac Lane, Blake Hall, Room 427, Lawrence, KS 66045-3129. E-mail:


This study investigates whether second language learners’ processing of stress can be explained by the degree to which suprasegmental cues contribute to lexical identity in the native language. It focuses on Standard Mandarin, Taiwan Mandarin, and American English listeners’ processing of stress in English nonwords. In Mandarin, fundamental frequency contributes to lexical identity by signaling lexical tones, but only in Standard Mandarin does duration distinguish stressed–unstressed and stressed–stressed words. Participants completed sequence-recall tasks containing English disyllabic nonwords contrasting in stress. Experiment 1 used natural stimuli; Experiment 2 used resynthesized stimuli that isolated fundamental frequency and duration cues. Experiment 1 revealed no difference among the groups; in Experiment 2, Standard Mandarin listeners used duration more than Taiwan Mandarin listeners did. These results are interpreted within a cue-weighting theory of speech perception.

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