Author: Li, Bei
Title: Cross-linguistic processing of prosodic focus in L1 Cantonese and L3 Mandarin by trilingual adults and children
Advisors: Chen, Si (CBS)
Chan, Angel (CBS)
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2024
Subject: Prosodic analysis (Linguistics)
Tone (Phonetics)
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies
Pages: xi, 243 pages : color illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: Speech prosody is an essential aspect of communication, together with co-speech visual information, aiding in the comprehension of new information in face-to-face conversations. Speech prosody can play a vital role in encoding information structure. Specifically, focus can be marked by duration lengthening, fundamental frequency (F0) and intensity increment. In tonal languages, F0 is employed both in conveying lexical meanings and marking focus, which may lead to some challenges in decoding focus. The degree to which tonal language listeners utilize linguistic and paralinguistic knowledge to decode prosodic focus in multimodal speech remains to be investigated. This dissertation seeks to investigate the decoding strategy for prosodic focus in multimodal speech in two tonal languages Cantonese and Mandarin by trilingual adults and children who speak Cantonese as their first language (L1) and Mandarin as their third language (L3). Their performance is also compared to native Mandarin-speaking adults and children.
This study conducted audio-only and audio-visual perceptual experiments in Cantonese and Mandarin, using a question-answer congruence paradigm with trilingual adults and school-aged children. Participants rated the naturalness of congruous and incongruous utterances elicited by different precursor questions involving focus categories, such as broad, narrow and contrastive focus on the verb. The utterances were designed to incorporate various tonal contexts, featuring both level and contour tones in various combinations.
Trilingual adults demonstrate the ability to effectively map narrow and contrastive focus onto the correct prosodic realizations, however, they often encounter challenges in identifying broad focus in their native Cantonese. They make probabilistic inferences regarding category-form mapping, displaying biases in favor of narrow focus but against broad focus in decoding prosodic focus. The perceptual biases were also manifested in the processing of L3 prosodic focus by trilingual adults, but not in native Mandarin-speaking adults, who demonstrated different interpretations of all focus categories compared to trilingual adults. Overall, trilingual adults heavily rely on their prior knowledge and use probabilistic inference in processing the prosodic focus forms in relation to information structure across languages.
Trilingual children do not exhibit the ability comparable to trilingual adults in making probabilistic inferences when mapping between focus categories and prosodic forms in Cantonese, although their accuracy in assessing the naturalness of prosodic focus is on par with that of adults. In L3, their ability to rate prosodic naturalness is equivalent to that of their native-speaking peers, whereas trilingual children exhibit asymmetric expectations for prosodic prominence between contrastive focus and narrow focus in Mandarin. Like adults, the influence of tonal contexts and visual cues on trilingual children's focus processing in either L1 or L3 was found to be negligible. The trilingual children have yet to attain an entire adult-like or native-like competence to utilize prior knowledge and make probabilistic inferences when processing prosody in their L1 or L3.
This dissertation presents a comprehensive framework, the Prosody Processing Model in L1/L3, for probing the adoption of the probabilistic approach to focus decoding by trilingual children and adults in both their L1 and L3. By contributing to the field of probabilistic models in speech processing, this study highlights the need for further research on the developmental process of probabilistic inference in cross-linguistic contexts to enhance our understanding of prosody comprehension.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: open access

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