Effects of L1 tone on perception of L2 tone - A study of Mandarin tone learning by native Cantonese children

Xinxin Li*, Carol Kit Sum To, Manwa Lawrence Ng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


In the present study, the Perceptual Assimilation Model (PAM) was tested on its applicability in child L2 lexical tone acquisition. The possible effect of L1 (Cantonese) lexical tones on L2 (Mandarin) lexical tone learning was explored. Accuracy rate and error patterns were examined with an AX discrimination task and a forced-choice identification task. Forty-nine native Cantonese-speaking students aged 8 years participated in the study. Results revealed that these children exhibited nearly perfect performance in the discrimination of Mandarin tones. However, significant tone differences were detected in the identification task. Tone 4 (T4) was identified with the lowest accuracy, and T1 with the highest. Error analysis revealed that Mandarin T2-T3 was the most confusing pair, followed by the T1-T4 pair. The inherent phonetic similarity between lexical tones in a language and the tone similarities across languages may also have contributed to perception difficulties, which could help to refine and supplement the PAM in the tonal/suprasegmental domain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-560
Number of pages12
JournalBilingualism: Language and Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cantonese
  • Mandarin
  • PAM
  • second language tone learning


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