Mandarin-English Bilinguals Process Lexical Tones in Newly Learned Words in Accordance with the Language Context
AffiliationUniv Arizona, Dept Speech Language & Hearing Sci
Univ Arizona, Dept Psychol
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherPUBLIC LIBRARY SCIENCE
CitationMandarin-English Bilinguals Process Lexical Tones in Newly Learned Words in Accordance with the Language Context 2017, 12 (1):e0169001 PLOS ONE
Rights© 2017 Quam, Creel. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.
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AbstractPrevious research has mainly considered the impact of tone-language experience on ability to discriminate linguistic pitch, but proficient bilingual listening requires differential processing of sound variation in each language context. Here, we ask whether Mandarin-English bilinguals, for whom pitch indicates word distinctions in one language but not the other, can process pitch differently in a Mandarin context vs. an English context. Across three eye tracked word-learning experiments, results indicated that tone-intonation bilinguals process tone in accordance with the language context. In Experiment 1, 51 Mandarin-English bilinguals and 26 English speakers without tone experience were taught Mandarin-compatible novel words with tones. Mandarin-English bilinguals out-performed English speakers, and, for bilinguals, overall accuracy was correlated with Mandarin dominance. Experiment 2 taught 24 Mandarin-English bilinguals and 25 English speakers novel words with Mandarin like tones, but English-like phonemes and phonotactics. The Mandarin-dominance advantages observed in Experiment 1 disappeared when words were English-like. Experiment 3 contrasted Mandarin-like vs. English-like words in a within-subjects design, providing even stronger evidence that bilinguals can process tone language-specifically. Bilinguals (N = 58), regardless of language dominance, attended more to tone than English speakers without Mandarin experience (N = 28), but only when words were Mandarin-like not when they were English-like. Mandarin-English bilinguals thus tailor tone processing to the within-word language context.
NoteOpen access journal.
VersionFinal published version
SponsorsNIH via Center for Research in Language [T32 DC00041-12]; NIH-NICHD [F32 HD065382]; NIH-NIDCD [K99 DC013795]; NSF [BCS-1057080, BCS-1230003]