Effects of Phonetic Similarity in the Identification of Mandarin Tones

Bin Li*, Jing Shao, Mingzhen Bao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Tonal languages differ in how they use phonetic correlates e.g. average pitch height and pitch direction, for tonal contrasts. Thus, native speakers of a tonal language may need to adjust their attention to familiar or unfamiliar phonetic cues when perceiving non-native tones. On the other hand, speakers of a non-tonal language may need to develop sensitivity to tonal correlates absent from their native system. The current study examines and compares five language groups’ perception of two synthesized Mandarin tones: the high level tone and the high falling tone. It aims to examine how listeners from tonal and non-tonal backgrounds identify and categorize acoustically equidistant pitches varying along two phonetic dimensions: pitch onset and slope. Results reveal “universal” perceptual patterns across groups and also tendencies caused by native tonal systems. Our findings confirm that L1 tonal and prosodic systems affect speakers’ sensitivity to novel perceptual cues and their abilities to discern relevant phonetic differences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107–124
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number1
Early online date26 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017

User-Defined Keywords

  • Pitch Contour
  • Level Tone
  • Pitch Height
  • Tonal Language
  • Mandarin Speaker


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