The effect of Mandarin listeners' musical and pitch aptitude on perceptual learning of Cantonese level-tones

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Abstract

Contrary to studies on speech learning of consonants and vowels, the issue of individual variability is less well understood in the learning of lexical tones. Whereas existing studies have focused on contour-tone learning (Mandarin) by listeners without experience of a tonal language, this study addressed a research gap by investigating the perceptual learning of level-tone contrasts (Cantonese) by learners with experience of a contour-tone system (Mandarin). Critically, we sought to answer the question of how Mandarin listeners' initial perception and learning of Cantonese level-tones are affected by their musical and pitch aptitude. Mandarin-speaking participants completed a pretest, training, and a posttest in the level-tone discrimination and identification (ID) tasks. They were assessed in musical aptitude and speech and nonspeech pitch thresholds before training. The results revealed a significant training effect in the ID task but not in the discrimination task. Importantly, the regression analyses showed an advantage of higher musical and pitch aptitude in perceiving Cantonese level-tone categories. The results explained part of the level-tone learning variability in speakers of a contour-tone system. The finding implies that prior experience of a tonal language does not necessarily override the advantage of listeners' musical and pitch aptitude.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-446
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Volume149
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics

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