Studies of lexical tone  learning generally focus on monosyllabic contexts, while reports of phonetic learning benefits associated with input variability are based largely on experienced learners. This study trained inexperienced learners on Mandarin tonal contrasts to test two hypotheses regarding the influence of context and variability on tone  learning. The first hypothesis was that increased phonetic variability of tones in disyllabic contexts makes initial tone  learning more challenging in disyllabic than monosyllabic words. The second hypothesis was that the learnability of a given tone varies across contexts due to differences in tonal variability. Results of a word learning experiment supported both hypotheses: tones were acquired less successfully in disyllables than in monosyllables, and the relative difficulty of disyllables was closely related to contextual tonal variability. These results indicate limited relevance of monosyllable-based data on Mandarin learning for the disyllabic majority of the Mandarin lexicon. Furthermore, in the short term, variability can diminish learning; its effects are not necessarily beneficial but dependent on acquisition stage and other learner characteristics. These findings thus highlight the importance of considering contextual variability and the interaction between variability and type of learner in the design, interpretation, and application of research on phonetic learning.

1.
Barcroft
,
J.
, and
Sommers
,
M. S.
(
2005
). “
Effects of acoustic variability on second language vocabulary learning
,”
Stud. Second Lang. Acquis.
27
,
387
414
.
2.
Berkowitz
,
S. S.
(
2010
). “
Discrimination of tone contrasts in Mandarin disyllables by naive American English listeners
,” Ph.D. thesis,
City University of New York
, New York.
3.
Blicher
,
D. L.
,
Diehl
,
R. L.
, and
Cohen
,
L. B.
(
1990
). “
Effects of syllable duration on the perception of the Mandarin tone 2/tone 3 distinction: Evidence of auditory enhancement
,”
J. Phon.
18
,
37
49
.
4.
Bowles
,
A. R.
,
Chang
,
C. B.
, and
Karuzis
,
V. P.
(
2015
). “
Pitch ability as an aptitude for tone learning
,”
Lang. Learn.
(in press).
5.
Bradley
,
E. D.
(
2012
). “
Crosslinguistic perception of pitch in language and music
,” Ph.D. thesis,
University of Delaware
, Newark, DE.
6.
Bradlow
,
A. R.
,
Pisoni
,
D. B.
,
Akahane-Yamada
,
R.
, and
Tohkura
,
Y.
(
1997
). “
Training Japanese listeners to identify English /r/ and /l/. IV: Some effects of perceptual learning on speech production
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
101
,
2299
2310
.
7.
Chandrasekaran
,
B.
,
Sampath
,
P. D.
, and
Wong
,
P. C. M.
(
2010
). “
Individual variability in cue-weighting and lexical tone learning
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
128
,
456
465
.
8.
Chang
,
C.
, and
Yao
,
Y.
(
2007
). “
Tone production in whispered Mandarin
,” in
Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences
, edited by
J.
Trouvain
and
W. J.
Barry
(
Pirrot
,
Dudweiler, Germany
), pp.
1085
1088
.
9.
Chao
,
Y.-R.
(
1930
). “
A system of tone-letters
,”
Le Maître Phon.
45
,
24
27
.
10.
Chao
,
Y.-R.
(
1933
). “
Zhong guo zi diao gen yu diao [Tone and intonation in Mandarin Chinese]
,”
Guo Li Zhong Yang Yan Jiu Yuan Li Shi Yu Yan Yan Jiu Suo Ji Kan [J. Inst. History Philos., Acad. Sinica]
4
,
121
135
.
11.
Clopper
,
C. G.
, and
Pisoni
,
D. B.
(
2004
). “
Effects of talker variability on perceptual learning of dialects
,”
Lang. Speech
47
,
207
239
.
12.
Ding
,
H.
(
2012
). “
Perception and production of Mandarin disyllabic tones by German learners
,” in
Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Speech Prosody
, edited by
Q.
Ma
,
H.
Ding
, and
D.
Hirst
(
Tongji University Press
,
Shanghai, China
) pp.
378
381
.
13.
Duanmu
,
S.
(
2007
).
The Phonology of Standard Chinese
, 2nd ed. (
Oxford University Press
,
Oxford, UK
),
352
pp.
14.
Flege
,
J. E.
(
1995
). “
Two procedures for training a novel second language phonetic contrast
,”
Appl. Psycholing.
16
,
425
442
.
15.
Gottfried
,
T. L.
, and
Suiter
,
T. L.
(
1997
). “
Effect of linguistic experience on the identification of Mandarin Chinese vowels and tones
,”
J. Phon.
25
,
207
231
.
16.
Hao
,
Y.-C.
(
2012
). “
Second language acquisition of Mandarin Chinese tones by tonal and non-tonal language speakers
,”
J. Phon.
40
,
269
279
.
17.
Iverson
,
P.
,
Hazan
,
V.
, and
Bannister
,
K.
(
2005
). “
Phonetic training with acoustic cue manipulations: A comparison of methods for teaching English /r/-/l/ to Japanese adults
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
118
,
3267
3278
.
18.
Jaeger
,
T. F.
(
2008
). “
Categorical data analysis: Away from ANOVAs (transformation or not) and towards logit mixed models
,”
J. Mem. Lang.
59
,
434
446
.
19.
Jin
,
W.
(
2011
). “
A statistical argument for the homophony avoidance approach to the disyllabification of Chinese
,” in
Proceedings of the 23rd North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics
, edited by
Z.
Jing-Schmidt
(
University of Oregon
,
Eugene, OR
), Vol.
1
, pp.
35
50
.
20.
Kingston
,
J.
(
2003
). “
Learning foreign vowels
,”
Lang. Speech
46
,
295
349
.
21.
Kirk
,
K. I.
,
Pisoni
,
D. B.
, and
Miyamoto
,
R. C.
(
1997
). “
Effects of stimulus variability on speech perception in listeners with hearing impairment
,”
J. Speech Lang. Hear. Res.
40
,
1395
1405
.
22.
Kong
,
Y.-Y.
, and
Zeng
,
F.-G.
(
2006
). “
Temporal and spectral cues in Mandarin tone recognition
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
120
,
2830
2840
.
23.
Leather
,
J.
(
1996
). “
Interrelation of perceptual and productive learning in the initial acquisition of second-language tone
,” in
Second-Language Speech: Structure and Process
, edited by
A.
James
and
J.
Leather
(
Mouton de Gruyter
,
Berlin, Germany
), pp.
75
101
.
24.
Liu
,
S.
, and
Samuel
,
A. G.
(
2004
). “
Perception of Mandarin lexical tones when F0 information is neutralized
,”
Lang. Speech
47
,
109
138
.
25.
Lively
,
S. E.
,
Logan
,
J. S.
, and
Pisoni
,
D. B.
(
1993
). “
Training Japanese listeners to identify English /r/ and /l/. II: The role of phonetic environment and talker variability in learning new perceptual categories
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
94
,
1242
1255
.
26.
Perrachione
,
T. K.
,
Lee
,
J.
,
Ha
,
L. Y. Y.
, and
Wong
,
P. C. M.
(
2011
). “
Learning a novel phonological contrast depends on interactions between individual differences and training paradigm design
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
130
,
461
472
.
27.
Rossion
,
B.
, and
Pourtois
,
G.
(
2004
). “
Revisiting Snodgrass and Vanderwart's object pictorial set: The role of surface detail in basic-level object recognition
,”
Perception
33
,
217
236
.
28.
Shen
,
X. S.
(
1990
). “
Tonal coarticulation in Mandarin
,”
J. Phon.
18
,
281
295
.
29.
Shen
,
X. S.
, and
Lin
,
M.
(
1991
). “
Concept of tone in Mandarin revisited: A perceptual study on tonal coarticulation
,”
Lang. Sci.
13
,
421
432
.
30.
Snodgrass
,
J. G.
, and
Vanderwart
,
M.
(
1980
). “
A standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity
,”
J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Learn. Mem.
6
,
174
215
.
31.
Snow
,
R. E.
(
1989
). “
Aptitude-treatment interaction as a framework for research on individual differences in learning
,” in
Learning and Individual Differences: Advances in Theory and Research
, edited by
P. L.
Ackerman
,
R. J.
Sternberg
, and
R.
Glaser
(
Freeman
,
New York
), pp.
13
59
.
32.
Sommers
,
M. S.
, and
Barcroft
,
J.
(
2007
). “
An integrated account of the effects of acoustic variability in first language and second language: Evidence from amplitude, fundamental frequency, and speaking rate variability
,”
Appl. Psycholing.
28
,
231
249
.
33.
Sommers
,
M. S.
,
Nygaard
,
L. C.
, and
Pisoni
,
D. B.
(
1994
). “
Stimulus variability and spoken word recognition, I: Effects of variability in speaking rate and overall amplitude
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
96
,
1314
1324
.
34.
Trude
,
A. M.
, and
Brown-Schmidt
,
S.
(
2012
). “
Can listeners use creaky voice to constrain lexical interpretation?
,” in
the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society
,
Minneapolis, MN
.
35.
Vatz
,
K.
,
Tare
,
M.
,
Jackson
,
S. R.
, and
Doughty
,
C. J.
(
2013
). “
Aptitude-treatment interaction studies in second language acquisition
,” in
Sensitive Periods, Language Aptitude, and Ultimate L2 Attainment
, edited by
G.
Granena
and
M.
Long
(
John Benjamins
,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
), pp.
273
292
.
36.
Wade
,
T.
,
Jongman
,
A.
, and
Sereno
,
J.
(
2007
). “
Effects of acoustic variability in the perceptual learning of non-native-accented speech sounds
,”
Phonetica
64
,
122
144
.
37.
Wang
,
X.
(
2013
). “
Perception of Mandarin tones: The effect of L1 background and training
,”
Modern Lang. J.
97
,
144
160
.
38.
Wang
,
Y.
,
Jongman
,
A.
, and
Sereno
,
J. A.
(
2003
). “
Acoustic and perceptual evaluation of Mandarin tone productions before and after perceptual training
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
113
,
1033
1043
.
39.
Wang
,
Y.
,
Spence
,
M. M.
,
Jongman
,
A.
, and
Sereno
,
J. A.
(
1999
). “
Training American listeners to perceive Mandarin tones
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
106
,
3649
3658
.
40.
Wayland
,
R. P.
, and
Guion
,
S. G.
(
2004
). “
Training English and Chinese listeners to perceive Thai tones: A preliminary report
,”
Lang. Learn.
54
,
681
712
.
41.
Wilson
,
M.
(
1988
). “
MRC Psycholinguistic Database: Machine-usable dictionary, version 2.00
,”
Behav. Res. Methods Instrum. Comput.
20
,
6
10
.
42.
Wong
,
F. C. K.
,
Chandrasekaran
,
B.
,
Garibaldi
,
K.
, and
Wong
,
P. C. M.
(
2011
). “
White matter anisotropy in the ventral language pathway predicts sound-to-word learning success
,”
J. Neurosci.
31
,
8780
8785
.
43.
Wong
,
P. C. M.
, and
Perrachione
,
T. K.
(
2007
). “
Learning pitch patterns in lexical identification by native English-speaking adults
,”
Appl. Psycholing.
28
,
565
585
.
44.
Xu
,
Y.
(
1994
). “
Production and perception of coarticulated tones
,”
J. Acoust. Soc. Am.
95
,
2240
2253
.
45.
Xu
,
Y.
(
1997
). “
Contextual tonal variations in Mandarin
,”
J. Phon.
25
,
61
83
.
46.
Yang
,
W.-J.
,
Lee
,
J.-C.
,
Chang
,
Y.-C.
, and
Wang
,
H.-C.
(
1988
). “
Recognition of lexical tones for isolated syllables and disyllables in Mandarin speech
,”
Int. J. Pattern Recogn. Artificial Intell.
2
,
49
69
.

Supplementary Material

You do not currently have access to this content.