Tones or Noise: How Previous Linguistic Experience Affects Lexical Processing of Tone
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The input people receive in their native language shapes their perceptual understanding of unfamiliar speech. Infants tend to under-generalize their speech input; when presented with words in a specific affect or pitch, they fail to recognize the word if it is subsequently presented in a different affect or pitch (Houston & Jusczyk, 2000, Singh et al., 2008). As infants get older they focus only on the aspects of speech that provide important lexical information to them. For example, Japanese speakers cannot perceive the difference between /r/ and /l/ because their language groups these two sounds together in one phoneme, and as such they have difficulty learning words in English that require an r/l distinction to use properly, like [rip] and [lip]. This study will explore the differences in perceptual understanding between Mandarin speakers and English speakers in a statistical learning paradigm. The participants will listen to words that either have a consistent Mandarin tone associated with them or a random tone. We expect that the Mandarin speakers, who store tone contour as an important aspect of words, would have trouble with an inconsistent tone cue, while English speakers would disregard the tone cue entirely and perform similarly in both conditions.