Perception of Tone by Native Mandarin Chinese Listeners: Optimal Auditory Perception

Andrew C.-J. Hung, Rong-fu Chung


Previous studies have found the perception of lexical tones associated with task types, acoustic/phonetic aspects of the tones, and language experience. But seldom has the interaction of these factors been studied. To fill the void, the present study, with an empirical experiment of 2x2x2 factorial design, investigated the perception of Mandarin tones by native listeners of Mandarin Chinese, who discriminated between pair-wise tone inputs from the right ear. The pair-wise stimuli consisted of familiar tonal contrasts versus unfamiliar contrasts. The stimuli were presented in speech sounds (i.e., real tones) versus in non-speech sounds (sinewave tones). The subjects were required to judge whether pair-wise tone tokens fitted into the same tone category (category discrimination) versus whether they were exactly identical (auditory discrimination). The study revealed that the perception of Mandarin tones is influenced significantly by task types and familiarity with the F0 contours. However, the effect of phonetics varies depending on the interaction of task types and familiarity with the F0 contours. The subjects performed better in nonspeech context than in speech context on two conditions: (1) in the category discrimination between familiar tonal contrasts, and (2) in the auditory (non-categorical) discrimination between unfamiliar tonal contrasts.


perception, Mandarin tone, discrimination, phonetics, F0 contour

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Copyright (c) 2016 Andrew C.-J. Hung, Rong-fu Chung

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