Perception of nonnative tonal contrasts by Mandarin-English and English-Mandarin sequential bilinguals
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Description: This study examined the role of acquisition order and crosslinguistic similarity in influencing transfer at the initial stage of perceptually acquiring a tonal third language (L3). Perception of tones in Yoruba and Thai was tested in adult sequential bilinguals representing three different first (L1) and second language (L2) backgrounds: L1 Mandarin-L2 English (MEBs), L1 English-L2 Mandarin (EMBs), and L1 English-L2 intonational/non-tonal (EIBs). MEBs outperformed EMBs and EIBs in discriminating L3 tonal contrasts in both languages, while EMBs showed a small advantage over EIBs on Yoruba. All groups showed better overall discrimination in Thai than Yoruba, but group differences were more robust in Yoruba. MEBs' and EMBs' poor discrimination of certain L3 contrasts was further reflected in the L3 tones being perceived as similar to the same Mandarin tone; however, EIBs, with no knowledge of Mandarin, showed many of the same similarity judgments. These findings thus suggest that L1 tonal experience has a particularly facilitative effect in L3 tone perception, but there is also a facilitative effect of L2 tonal experience. Further, crosslinguistic perceptual similarity between L1/L2 and L3 tones, as well as acoustic similarity between different L3 tones, play a significant role at this early stage of L3 tone acquisition.
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