Music Does Not Facilitate Lexical Tone Normalization: A Speech-Specific Perceptual Process

Ran Tao, Kaile Zhang, Gang Peng

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Listeners utilize the immediate contexts to efficiently normalize variable vocal streams into standard phonology units. However, researchers debated whether non-speech contexts can also serve as valid clues for speech normalization. Supporters of the two sides proposed a general-auditory hypothesis and a speech-specific hypothesis to explain the underlying mechanisms. A possible confounding factor of this inconsistency is the listeners’ perceptual familiarity of the contexts, as the non-speech contexts were perceptually unfamiliar to listeners. In this study, we examined this confounding factor by recruiting a group of native Cantonese speakers with sufficient musical training experience and a control group with minimal musical training. Participants performed lexical tone judgment tasks in three contextual conditions, i.e., speech, non-speech, and music context conditions. Both groups were familiar with the speech context and not familiar with the non-speech context. The musician group was more familiar with the music context than the non-musician group. The results evidenced the lexical tone normalization process in speech context but not non-speech nor music contexts. More importantly, musicians did not outperform non-musicians on any contextual conditions even if the musicians were experienced at pitch perception, indicating that there is no noticeable transfer in pitch perception from the music domain to the linguistic domain for tonal language speakers. The findings showed that even high familiarity with a non-linguistic context cannot elicit an effective lexical tone normalization process, supporting the speech-specific basis of the perceptual normalization process.

Original languageEnglish
Article number717110
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2021


  • Cantonese
  • lexical tones
  • music
  • speech normalization
  • tone normalization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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