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Auteur: Li-Hsin NING

Co-Auteur(s): Torrey M. Loucks, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States of America Chilin Shih, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States of America

Auditory Influences on Second Language Learning: Tone Discrimination Interacts with Audiovocal Responses

Abstract/Résumé: Auditory feedback of your own voice is critical for learning how to shape vocalizations into meaningful communication. Children with pre-linguistic deafness do not develop the ability to regulate loudness and intonation while adults with post-lingual deafness show gradual deterioration of suprasegmental control. This evidence indicates that suprasegmental control over vocalization relies on being able to hear you own voice (auditory feedback). The link between suprasegmental control and language is realized in the tone contours of languages like Mandarin. For native Mandarin speakers, internal tone representations are established in early childhood via ‘audio-vocal learning’. This paper’s goal is to investigate whether second-language learners of Mandarin can acquire tone representations that approximate native speakers. Evidence is obtained by comparing the audio-vocal responses of learners and native speakers using the pitch-shift paradigm and perception tests. Three tasks were administered to 10 adult second-language learners, 9 native Mandarin speakers, and 10 naïve people without exposure to tonal languages. In the pitch-shift task, participants vocalized /a/ for 5 s while listening to their own voice. The pitch of the feedback signal was altered by ±50 or ±100 cents for 200 ms. In the non-linguistic tone discrimination (TD) task, participants listened to short tone pairs and judged whether the second was lower or higher in pitch. In the Mandarin tone discrimination (MD) task, participants judged whether two words had the same or different tone contour. In the perception (TD/MD) tasks, native speakers had both better nonlinguistic and Mandarin tone discrimination scores than the learners. Learners, in turn, had better nonlinguistic and Mandarin tone discrimination scores than naïve subjects. Linear correlation analyses show that people who had better ability in differentiating nonlinguistic tones (TD) had better capability in discriminating linguistic tones (MD). In the pitch-shift task, participants with better tone discrimination had faster peak responses. Audio-vocal pitch-shift responses may therefore have some relevance for understanding perception-production relationships in language learning. Poor tone perception could present a challenge for learning a tonal language in adulthood because poor tone discrimination is associated with poorer performance on a Mandarin tone discrimination task. Our ongoing project is determining if learning of Mandarin in adulthood changes pitch-shift responses to Mandarin stimuli.