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Tone Sequences in Lexical Processing of Beijing Mandarin


When processing a string of syllables in Mandarin Chinese, tone information needs to be taken into account in order to identify possible words. However, most of the previous studies on processing of tone use monosyllables, which might underestimate the role of tone information. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the role of tone in contexts where it is maximally informative. To this end, we conduct a set of 3 experiments. Using corpus data, we show in experiment 1 that tone is more informative on disyllables than monosyllables. In experiment 2, we use existing corpus data as well as newly acquired speech data to define two alternative measures of tone frequency for disyllables: ditone sequence frequency (the likelihood of encountering a given sequence of two tones on a disyllabic word) and tone bigram frequency (the likelihood of encountering a given sequence of two tones in running speech, regardless of word boundaries). Based on these results, we investigate in experiment 3 the role of tone sequences in disambiguating two segmentally identical disyllabic word candidates that differ only in tone. Using a priming paradigm, we presented native speakers of Mandarin with a disyllabic sequence that was tonally ambiguous between two lexical entries. We show that tone frequency plays a separate role from word frequency and interferes with word frequency information during the processing of disyllables in Mandarin. When word frequency and tone frequency did not favour the same candidate, a tonally-matched prime reduced the likelihood of picking the candidate with the matching tone. Results suggest that listeners are sensitive to the overall likelihood of encountering a given sequence of tones in running speech, regardless of word boundaries (tone bigram frequency).

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