Native language experience with tones influences both phonetic and lexical processes when acquiring a second tonal language

Eric Pelzl, Jiang Liu, Chunhong Qi

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Second language acquisition of lexical tones requires that a learner form appropriate tone categories and bind those categories to lexical representations for fluent word recognition. Research has shown that second language (L2) learners with no previous tone language experience can become highly accurate at identification of tones in isolation, but, even at advanced levels, have difficulty using tones to differentiate real words from nonwords. The present research considers the same skills in L2 learners who do have previous tone experience. Using largely the same tasks and stimuli previously used with English speakers in Pelzl, Lau, Guo, & DeKeyser (2021a) (“PLGD21”), we examined the tone identification and (tone) word recognition abilities of thirty-three Vietnamese speakers who had achieved advanced L2 proficiency in Mandarin. Results indicate that Vietnamese speakers experience different tone identification difficulties than English speakers, presumably due to interference from their native language tone categories. However, unlike English speakers in previous studies, Vietnamese speakers did not display differences in lexical decision accuracy for vowel and tone nonwords. These results provide evidence of the complexities of cross-linguistic influence, illustrating that the influence of native language tones can be illuminated by considering perception and acquisition at multiple levels.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101197
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Cross-linguistic influence
  • Mandarin
  • Second language acquisition
  • Speech learning
  • Tones
  • Vietnamese

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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