Linguistics: The case of Mandarin contextual tones
Acquisition of phonological processes: The case of Mandarin contextual tones
Dr Nan Xu, Macquarie University
Around 16% of the world’s population speaks Mandarin Chinese. Yet most of what we know about language development, including current theoretical frameworks, are predominantly based on English or European languages. For Mandarin-learning children, in addition to acquiring the four lexical tones, they must also acquire the pervasive tone sandhi and neutral tones, two contextual tones that undergo surface changes due to phonological processes when various tones come together. While children acquire lexical tones before 3 years, the contextual tones are acquired much later. However, we know very little about children’s acoustic production of tones in context or when these become adult-like. In addition, there is virtually no knowledge about children’s representations of contextual tones, including their ability to productively apply these to novel words.
These gaps in research are addressed in a series of studies. The results will be discussed in terms of children’s ability to co-ordinate multiple acoustic cues in an adult-like manner, their ability to productively apply tone change processes and generalise to novel items, as well as what the results suggest about children’s developing representations.
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