Phonetic accommodation of tone: Reversing a tone merger-in-progress via imitation

Yuhan Lin, Yao Yao, Jin Luo

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Previous literature has documented phonetic accommodation for various segmental and suprasegmental features, but the accommodation of tone remains under-explored. The current study contributes to the literature by investigating the accommodation of two merging tones in Hong Kong Cantonese, mid-level Tone 3 (T3) and low-level Tone 6 (T6), in a speech shadowing experiment. Specifically, we ask whether shadowers will reverse the merging trend after exposure to a model talker with distinct T3–T6 productions and if so, what factors will modulate the accommodative behaviors. Evidence for phonetic imitation is observed, but the effect varies by shadower's baseline production of T3–T6 distinction and across different model talkers. Shadowers with less baseline tonal distinction exhibit greater degrees of imitation, suggesting that greater linguistic distance facilitates imitation. More robust imitation is observed in the young model talker condition, but the effect is most likely driven by the talker's idiosyncratic production. Shadowers’ impression of the model talker and attitudes towards ongoing changes in the language did not show substantial impact on imitation. We discuss the implications of these findings for theories of speech perception and production.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101060
JournalJournal of Phonetics
Early online date11 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Cantonese tone
  • Merger reversal
  • Phonetic imitation
  • Sound change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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