The effect of lexicon and tonal context on university students' lexical tone identification

Year: 2012

Author: Lilienfeld, Baili Emily

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The relationship between lexical tones and lexicon are close, due to the fact that they are used to indicate word meanings in tonal languages, which take up about half of the world's languages. Previous studies have placed an emphasis on exploring the acoustic cues of tone perception, as well as the effect of linguistic experience on tone learning. This paper investigates the effect of lexicon and tonal context in the learning of Chinese (Mandarin) tones from a cross-linguistic perspective. 50 elementary level university students were tested on their identification of tones in monosyllables and disyllables under two conditions: familiar words and unfamiliar words. The analysis showed significant performance differences in perceiving tones between these two conditions, as well as in monosyllables and disyllable contexts. Gender differences as well as differences in tone difficulty were also revealed. The results propose that lexicon is used as a cue to help with tone identification, in addition to other cues that have been found in previous research. It suggests that the teaching of tones for elementary level second language learners should provide word meanings to facilitate learning and to practice tones in different tonal contexts. Further research should explore the effect of lexicon more widely, as well as tone learning strategies employed by learners.