Skip to main content
×
×
Home

ADVANCED SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNERS’ PERCEPTION OF LEXICAL TONE CONTRASTS

  • Eric Pelzl (a1), Ellen F. Lau (a1), Taomei Guo (a2) and Robert DeKeyser (a1)
Abstract

It is commonly believed that second language (L2) acquisition of lexical tones presents a major challenge for learners from nontonal language backgrounds. This belief is somewhat at odds with research that consistently shows beginning learners making quick gains through focused tone training, as well as research showing advanced learners achieving near-native performance in tone identification tasks. However, other long-term difficulties related to L2 tone perception may persist, given the additional demands of word recognition and the effects of context. In the current study, we used behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) experiments to test whether perception of Mandarin tones is difficult for advanced L2 learners in isolated syllables, disyllabic words in isolation, and disyllabic words in sentences. Stimuli were more naturalistic and challenging than in previous research. While L2 learners excelled at tone identification in isolated syllables, they performed with very low accuracy in rejecting disyllabic tonal nonwords in isolation and in sentences. We also report ERP data from critical mismatching words in sentences; while L2 listeners showed no significant differences in responses in any condition, trends were not inconsistent with the overall pattern in behavioral results of less sensitivity to tone mismatches than to semantic or segmental mismatches. We interpret these results as evidence that Mandarin tones are in fact difficult for advanced L2 learners. However, the difficulty is not due primarily to an inability to perceive tones phonetically, but instead is driven by the need to process tones lexically, especially in multisyllable words.

Copyright
Corresponding author
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Eric Pelzl, Second Language Acquisition, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA. E-mail: pelzlea@gmail.com
Footnotes
Hide All

Thanks to Junjie Wu, Di Lu, Yongben Fu, and Chunyan Kang for help running participants in Beijing, to Man Li for help proofreading initial rounds of Chinese stimuli, to Anna Chrabaszcz for helpful advice and Matlab scripts, and to Brendan Cone for help editing many, many sound files. This research was supported in part by NSF-IGERT grant 0801465 and NSF-EAPSI grant 1514936.

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Abrahamsson, N. (2012). Age of onset and nativelike L2 ultimate attainment of morphosyntactic and phonetic intuition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 34, 187214.
Barr, D. J., Levy, R., Scheepers, C., & Tily, H. J. (2013). Random effects structure for confirmatory hypothesis testing: Keep it maximal. Journal of Memory and Language, 68, 255278.
Bates, D., Mächler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S. (2015). Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software, 67, 148.
Bowles, A. R., Chang, C. B., & Karuzis, V. P. (2016). Pitch ability as an aptitude for tone learning. Language Learning, 66, 774808.
Brainard, D. H. (1997). The psychophysics toolbox. Spatial Vision, 10, 443446.
Broersma, M. (2012). Increased lexical activation and reduced competition in second language listening. Language and Cognitive Processes, 27, 12051224.
Broersma, M., & Cutler, A. (2008). Phantom word activation in L2. System, 36, 2234.
Broersma, M., & Cutler, A. (2011). Competition dynamics of second-language listening. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 7495.
Brown-Schmidt, S., & Canseco-Gonzalez, E. (2004). Who do you love, your mother or your horse? An event-related brain potential analysis of tone processing in Mandarin Chinese. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 33, 103135.
Cai, Q., & Brysbaert, M. (2010). SUBTLEX-CH: Chinese word and character frequencies based on film subtitles. PLoS One, 5, e10729.
Chandrasekaran, B., Sampath, P. D., & Wong, P. C. M. (2010). Individual variability in cue-weighting and lexical tone learning. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 128, 456–65.
Chang, C. B., & Bowles, A. R. (2015). Context effects on second-language learning of tonal contrasts. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 136, 37033716.
Chrabaszcz, A., & Gor, K. (2014). Context effects in the processing of phonolexical ambiguity in L2: Context effects in processing of L2. Language Learning, 64, 415455.
Cook, S. V., & Gor, K. (2015). Lexical access in L2: Representational deficit or processing constraint? The Mental Lexicon, 10, 247270.
Darcy, I., Daidone, D., & Kojima, C. (2013). Asymmetric lexical access and fuzzy lexical representations in second language learners. The Mental Lexicon, 8, 372420.
Delorme, A., & Makeig, S. (2004). EEGLAB: An open source toolbox for analysis of single-trial EEG dynamics including independent component analysis. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 134, 921.
Díaz, B., Mitterer, H., Broersma, M., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2012). Individual differences in late bilinguals’ L2 phonological processes: From acoustic-phonetic analysis to lexical access. Learning and Individual Differences, 22, 680689.
Duanmu, S. (2007). The phonology of standard Chinese (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Flege, J. E., Munro, M. J., & MacKay, I. R. A. (1995). Factors affecting strength of perceived foreign accent in a second language. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 97, 31253134.
Gelman, A., & Hill, J. (2007). Data analysis using regression and multilevel/hierarchical models. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Gibson, E., Bergen, L., & Piantadosi, S. T. (2013). Rational integration of noisy evidence and prior semantic expectations in sentence interpretation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110, 80518056.
Hao, Y.-C. (2012). Second language acquisition of Mandarin Chinese tones by tonal and non-tonal language speakers. Journal of Phonetics, 40, 269279.
Hothorn, T., Bretz, F., & Westfall, P. (2008). Simultaneous inference in general parametric models. Biometrical Journal, 50, 346363.
Huang, T., & Johnson, K. (2010). Language specificity in speech perception: Perception of Mandarin tones by native and nonnative listeners. Phonetica, 67, 243267.
Jaeger, T. F. (2008). Categorical data analysis: Away from ANOVAs (transformation or not) and towards logit mixed models. Journal of Memory and Language, 59, 434446.
Kutas, M., & Federmeier, K. D. (2000). Electrophysiology reveals semantic memory use in language comprehension. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 463470.
Kutas, M., & Hillyard, S. A. (1980). Reading senseless sentences: Brain potential reflect semantic incongruity. Science, 207, 203205.
Kutas, M., & Hillyard, S. A. (1984). Brain potentials during reading reflect word expectancy and semantic association. Nature, 307, 161163.
Lau, E. F., Phillips, C., & Poeppel, D. (2008). A cortical network for semantics: (De)constructing the N400. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, 920933.
Lee, C.-Y., Tao, L., & Bond, Z. S. (2009). Speaker variability and context in the identification of fragmented Mandarin tones by native and non-native listeners. Journal of Phonetics, 37, 115.
Lee, C.-Y., Tao, L., & Bond, Z. S. (2010). Identification of acoustically modified Mandarin tones by non-native listeners. Language and Speech, 53, 217243.
Li, M., & DeKeyser, R. (2017). Perception practice, production practice, and musical ability in L2 Mandarin tone-word learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 39, 563620.
Lopez-Calderon, J., & Luck, S. J. (2014). ERPLAB: An open-source toolbox for the analysis of event-related potentials. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 213.
Lukianchenko, A. (2014). From sound to meaning: Quantifying contextual effects in resolution of L2 phonolexical ambiguity. College Park: University of Maryland.
Malins, J. G., & Joanisse, M. F. (2012). Setting the tone: An ERP investigation of the influences of phonological similarity on spoken word recognition in Mandarin Chinese. Neuropsychologia, 50, 20322043.
Mathworks, USA. (2013). MATLAB and statistics release 2013a. Natick, MA: The MathWorks, Inc.
Pallier, C., Colomé, A., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2001). The influence of native-language phonology on lexical access: Exemplar-based versus abstract lexical entries. Psychological Science, 12, 445449.
Pelli, D. G. (1997). The VideoToolbox software for visual psychophysics: Transforming numbers into movies. Spatial Vision, 10, 437442.
Perrachione, T. K., Lee, J., Ha, L. Y. Y., & Wong, P. C. M. (2011). Learning a novel phonological contrast depends on interactions between individual differences and training paradigm design. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 130, 461472.
R Core Team. (2017). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Retrieved from http://www.R-project.org/.
Schirmer, A., Tang, S.-L., Penney, T. B., Gunter, T. C., & Chen, H.-C. (2005). Brain responses to segmentally and tonally induced semantic violations in Cantonese. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17, 112.
Sebastián-Gallés, N., & Díaz, B. (2012). First and second language speech perception: Graded learning. Language Learning, 62, 131147.
Showalter, C. E., & Hayes-Harb, R. (2013). Unfamiliar orthographic information and second language word learning: A novel lexicon study. Second Language Research, 29, 185200.
So, C. K., & Best, C. T. (2010). Cross-language perception of non-native tonal contrasts: Effects of native phonological and phonetic influences. Language and Speech, 53, 273293.
So, C. K., & Best, C. T. (2014). Phonetic influences on English and French listeners’ assimilation of Mandarin tones to native prosodic categories. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 36, 195221.
Sun, S. H. (1998). The development of a lexical tone phonology in American adult learners of standard Mandarin Chinese. Honolulu, HI: Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center.
Wang, X. (2013). Perception of Mandarin tones: The effect of L1 background and training. The Modern Language Journal, 97, 144160.
Wang, Y., Spence, M. M., Jongman, A., & Sereno, J. A. (1999). Training American listeners to perceive Mandarin tones. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 106, 3649.
Wiener, S., & Ito, K. (2016). Impoverished acoustic input triggers probability-based tone processing in mono-dialectal Mandarin listeners. Journal of Phonetics, 56, 3851.
Wong, P. C. M., & Perrachione, T. K. (2007). Learning pitch patterns in lexical identification by native English-speaking adults. Applied Psycholinguistics, 28, 565585.
Xu, Y. (1997). Contextual tonal variation in Mandarin. Journal of Phonetics, 25, 6183.
Zhang, H. (2014). The third tone: Allophones, sandhi rules and pedagogy. Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, 49, 117145.
Zhang, H. (2016). Dissimilation in the second language acquisition of Mandarin Chinese tones. Second Language Research, 32, 427451.
Zhang, L. (2011). Meiguo liuxuesheng Hanyu shengdiaode yinwei he shengxue xinxi jiagong. Shijie Hanyu Jiaoxue Chinese Teaching in the World, 25, 268275.
Zhao, J., Guo, J., Zhou, F., & Shu, H. (2011). Time course of Chinese monosyllabic spoken word recognition: Evidence from ERP analyses. Neuropsychologia, 49, 17611770.
Zou, T., Chen, Y., & Caspers, J. (2016). The developmental trajectories of attention distribution and segment-tone integration in Dutch learners of Mandarin tones. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 20, 10171029.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Studies in Second Language Acquisition
  • ISSN: 0272-2631
  • EISSN: 1470-1545
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-second-language-acquisition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×
Type Description Title
WORD
Supplementary materials

Pelzl et al. supplementary material
Appendix B

 Word (121 KB)
121 KB
WORD
Supplementary materials

Pelzl et al. supplementary material
Appendix A

 Word (192 KB)
192 KB

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed