Author: Chow, Wen Chun
Title: Effects of L1 prosody and phonetic variability on second language perception of Mandarin tones by Thai and Indonesian speakers
Advisors: Liu, Yi (CBS)
Chan, Shui-duen (CBS)
Degree: DALS
Year: 2021
Subject: Mandarin dialects -- Intonation
Mandarin dialects -- Phonology
Chinese language -- Study and teaching
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Faculty of Humanities
Pages: 174 pages : color illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: Despite cross-linguistic studies corroborated that language experience plays a crucial role in the perception of second language (L2) speech sounds at segmental level, in respect to suprasegmental level, the role of linguistic experience in the perception of lexical tones and whether the tonal language speakers have an advantage over non-tonal speakers in acquiring non-native tones are still controversial. In addition, literature reported that consonant, vowel, and tonal context have effects on Mandarin tone perception by native speakers; however, these effects on L2 learners' perception are not well understood. While most of the previous studies have examined how native American, English, Cantonese, Japanese, and French speakers perceived Mandarin tones, the perceptual specificities among South Asian ethnics have been seldom researched. To bridge the gap, the current thesis applies a multi-perspective approach aiming to comprehensively address the perceptual process of Mandarin tones by Thai (tonal) and Indonesian (non-tonal language) speakers. The interaction effects among segmental and tonal contexts on the perception of Mandarin tones were also investigated. In the discussion part, the Perceptual Assimilation Model (PAM) was employed as a theoretical framework to address the participants' performance in relation to their respective L1 prosodic backgrounds. The experimental design of this study consists of four parts: (I) an identification test for the four Mandarin tones in isolation; (II) an identification test with the target tones embedded in the middle position of a carrier sentence; (III) an identification task for categorical perception (CP) of T1/T2, T1/T4, and T2/T3 continua; (IV) a discrimination task for the same types of tone pairs as in the identification task of categorical perception. Four Mandarin syllables /ta/, /ti/, /tha/, /thi/ in four Mandarin tones produced by two native Mandarin speakers (1 male and 1 female) were used as stimuli for the identification tests of four Mandarin tones in isolation and carrier sentences. Additionally, three pairs of synthesized continua were constructed for the identification and discrimination tasks of categorical perception. 18 adult Thai (10 females, 8 males) and 18 adult Indonesian (10 females, 8 males) speakers, who had come to China and studied Mandarin for one year, were recruited as participants in this study. A control group consisting of 18 native speakers (10 females, 8 males) was formed to serve as the benchmark for comparison. The three groups of participants completed all the four tasks and their responses were submitted to Friedman ANOVA, Linear Mixed Model (LMM), and Wilcoxon signed-rank tests with Bonferroni correction for statistical analysis.
The experiment results show that Thai speakers significantly outperformed the Indonesian speakers in both four-tone identification tests for isolated and contextual tones. T2 and T3 appeared to elicit the most serious confusion among the three L1 groups. Although both Thai and Indonesian speakers consistently exhibited great difficulty in the perception of Mandarin T2 and T3, Indonesian speakers significantly made more errors in the perception of T1 and T4 than Thai counterparts did. The statistical analyses reveal that listeners with L1 tonal experience (Thai) can facilitate perceptual learning of Mandarin tones; however, factors such as intrinsic phonetic similarity among the four Mandarin tones and the tonal variation may also constraint learners' perception. In this thesis, aspirated and unaspirated consonants (/t/, /th/), high and low vowels (/a/, /i/) were employed to ascertain the effects of segmental context on the perception accuracy of Mandarin tones by L2 learners. Unexpectedly, no such effects were found. This supports the view that both L2 learners and L1 speakers are consistently applying F0 and tone contour as the primary acoustic cues for the perception of Mandarin tones. Moreover, Thai speakers' identification for target tones presented in carrier sentences (within tonal contexts) was significantly better than in isolation whereas a reversal pattern was observed among Indonesian speakers exhibiting that the identification accuracy of contextual tones was significantly lower than the isolated tones. This asymmetric finding in the perceptual pattern is probably due to the assertion that tonal L1 listeners (Thai) can benefit from the tonal context when perceiving lexical tones whereas non-tonal L1 listeners (Indonesian) cannot. With regard to the investigation of categorical perception (CP), the three groups of listeners differed significantly on the position of identification boundaries, boundary widths, and discrimination peaks among the three continuum types. The results show that only the native group exhibited characteristics of categorical perception whereas both Thai and Indonesian groups were psychophysically based. However, all the three L1 groups differed in their degree of categoricity among the three continuum types and the categorical pattern observed on the Thai group approximated the Mandarin group (native) more closely than the Indonesian group did, in terms of the boundary positions and widths. All three groups demonstrated a lower sensitivity for the T2-T3 continuum. These findings further pinpoint that tonal and non-tonal L1 listeners process Mandarin tones differently while there is a gradient difference of categoricity in the perception of Mandarin tone by tonal (Thai) and non-tonal (Indonesian) L1 speakers. Based on the findings that the Thai listeners significantly outperformed the Indonesian listeners in the identification test and exhibited a more categorical-like perception than Indonesian counterparts did, this study concludes that listeners' tonal L1 experience can facilitate the perception of non-native tone; nevertheless, the acoustic properties of the target tonal contrasts, the prosodic system of listeners' L1, and the phonetic variability among the target speech should also be taken into account when determining the effect of L1 on Mandarin tone perception. From the perspective of second language acquisition (SLA), this study suggests that the contrastive analysis hypothesis (CAH) which is commonly applied to address the Mandarin tone acquisition by L2 learners is not sufficient to explain all sources of difficulties. A multi-perspectives approach should be exploited when examining L2 Mandarin tone processing.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: restricted access

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