Advanced Second Language Learners of Mandarin Show Persistent Deficits for Lexical Tone Encoding in Picture-to-Word Form Matching

Eric Pelzl, Ellen F. Lau, Taomei Guo, Robert M. Dekeyser

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

People who grow up speaking a language without lexical tones typically find it difficult to master tonal languages after childhood. Accumulating research suggests that much of the challenge for these second language (L2) speakers has to do not with identification of the tones themselves, but with the bindings between tones and lexical units. The question that remains open is how much of these lexical binding problems are problems of encoding (incomplete knowledge of the tone-to-word relations) vs. retrieval (failure to access those relations in online processing). While recent work using lexical decision tasks suggests that both may play a role, one issue is that failure on a lexical decision task may reflect a lack of learner confidence about what is not a word, rather than non-native representation or processing of known words. Here we provide complementary evidence using a picture-phonology matching paradigm in Mandarin in which participants decide whether or not a spoken target matches a specific image, with concurrent event-related potential (ERP) recording to provide potential insight into differences in L1 and L2 tone processing strategies. As in the lexical decision case, we find that advanced L2 learners show a clear disadvantage in accurately identifying tone mismatched targets relative to vowel mismatched targets. We explore the contribution of incomplete/uncertain lexical knowledge to this performance disadvantage by examining individual data from an explicit tone knowledge post-test. Results suggest that explicit tone word knowledge and confidence explains some but not all of the errors in picture-phonology matching. Analysis of ERPs from correct trials shows some differences in the strength of L1 and L2 responses, but does not provide clear evidence toward differences in processing that could explain the L2 disadvantage for tones. In sum, these results converge with previous evidence from lexical decision tasks in showing that advanced L2 listeners continue to have difficulties with lexical tone recognition, and in suggesting that these difficulties reflect problems both in encoding lexical tone knowledge and in retrieving that knowledge in realtime.

Original languageEnglish
Article number689423
JournalFrontiers in Communication
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Chinese
  • ERPs
  • fuzzy lexical representations
  • lexical tone
  • Mandarin
  • second language
  • speech perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Advanced Second Language Learners of Mandarin Show Persistent Deficits for Lexical Tone Encoding in Picture-to-Word Form Matching'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this