Influence of within-category tonal information in the recognition of Mandarin-Chinese words by native and non-native listeners: An eye-tracking study

Zhen Qin, Annie Tremblay (Corresponding Author), Jie Zhang (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This study investigates how within-category tonal information influences native and non-native Mandarin listeners’ spoken word recognition. Previous eye-tracking research has shown that the within-category phonetic details of consonants and vowels constrain lexical activation. However, given the highly dynamic and variable nature of lexical tones, it is unclear whether the within-category phonetic details of lexical tones would similarly modulate lexical activation. Native Mandarin listeners and proficient adult English-speaking Mandarin learners were tested in a visual-world eye-tracking experiment. The target word contained a level tone and the competitor word contained a high-rising tone, or vice versa. The auditory stimuli were manipulated such that the target tone was either canonical (Standard condition), phonetically more distant from the competitor (Distant condition), or phonetically closer to the competitor (Close condition). Growth curve analyses on fixations suggest that, compared to the Standard condition, Mandarin listeners’ target-over-competitor word activation was enhanced in the Distant condition and inhibited in the Close condition, whereas English listeners’ target-over-competitor word activation was inhibited in both the Distant and Close conditions. These results suggest that within-category tonal information influences both native and non-native Mandarin listeners’ word recognition, but does so differently for the two groups. © 2019 Elsevier Ltd
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-157
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Eye tracking
  • Mandarin tones
  • Spoken word recognition
  • Within-category tonal information

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