Author: Huang, Xunan
Title: The productivity of tone sandhi in Mandarin-speaking children and its developmental features
Advisors: Zhang, Caicai (CBS)
Wang, Shi-yuan William (CBS)
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2020
Subject: Chinese language -- Dialects -- Tone
Chinese language -- Dialects -- Acquisition
Mandarin dialects
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies
Pages: xii, 185 pages : color illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: Children's productive knowledge of morphological alternations has received substantial attention in the literature. However, little is known about how and when the tonal alternations, such as tone sandhis in Chinese dialects, become productive. The productivity of tone sandhi is thought to be influenced by two operational mechanisms, i.e., lexical and computation mechanism. It has been well established that Mandarin Tone 3 sandhi in adults is mediated via a computation mechanism. However, the development of Tone 3 sandhi in children is still unclear. Besides, these two mechanisms relate to the issues of mental representation and decomposition of Mandarin Tone 3 sandhi. There are different theoretical accounts for how tone sandhi is represented and implemented in adult speakers, including the underlying representation view, the surface representation view, the multi-variant account, or the underspecification view. It is still unknown how they are represented in the mental lexicon and decomposed in speech production in children. This thesis examines the productivity of Mandarin Tone 3 sandhi in Mandarin-speaking children, and those developmental features, which have received very little attention so far. It aims to explore how such productive sandhi is applied in pseudo- and novel words in children's speech production from both perceptual and acoustic analysis, how they are processed online or internalized in the mental lexicon in children, and how they are decomposed from the speech productions from childhood to adulthood. Explorations on these research questions are expected to further provide new knowledge into language acquisition.
To this end, I first explored the productivity of the sandhi pattern in speech production by examining children's performances in real words, pseudo-words, and novel words by observing the phoneticians' speech production judgment and the acoustic realizations. I found that children's application of Mandarin Tone 3 sandhi undergoes a developmental trajectory. Children showed relatively low productivity at three-to five-years-old, especially in novel words. This indicates the involvement of the lexical mechanism at three-to-five-years old. Seven years old children reached the adult-like application in those novel words, which indicates the full development of the computation mechanism. Second, I conducted an auditory-auditory priming lexical decision task to determine children's mental representation of tone sandhi. I found that four-and five-year-old children represented sandhi items in their surface forms, while the children from six to eight years old have both surface and underlying forms represented in their mental lexicon. Compared with the result of adults that only exhibited a significant underlying priming effect when deciding Tone 3 sandhi real words, children have not yet reached an adult-like underlying representation even between seven and eight years old. The relatively delayed underlying representation in children compared with the speech production task may be explained by the children's literacy effect and the frequency effect of the tone sandhi words. These results are also of great value because they illustrate how children process real sandhi words online at different ages, which informs the development of theoretical models for language acquisition from a different perspective. Third, I explored the tone awareness of the sandhi items with the explicit syllable deletion task and the implicit tone matching that were widely used for examining phonological awareness. I found that children also undergo a similar developmental trajectory in line with their productivity features in the way of reaching the adult-like underlying Tone 3 recognition. Children reached the adult level of explicit processing at seven years old. This experiment enhances our understanding of how the phonological alternations of Mandarin Tone 3 sandhi are recognized by Mandarin-speaking adults and children. Taken together, this thesis offers a comprehensive understanding of how Mandarin-speaking children learn to apply a sandhi pattern and represent the phonological alternation pattern in the mental lexicon, and how to internalize and decompose the pattern from the surface form during the language development. The overall results reflect children's general developmental timeline of language processing from the lexical mechanism to the computation mechanism. Previous studies primarily focus on children's operational mechanisms in language components that involve phonological or morphological alternations with regular and irregular forms. The tone sandhis in Chinese dialects offers a new perspective to observe children's development of operational mechanisms and language processing.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: open access

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