Categorization of Lexical Tones in Mandarin-Learning Infants

Jun Gao, Graduate School, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Rushen Shi, Université du Québec à Montréal
Aijun Li, Institute of Linguistics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

It is well-known that children are born with the perceptual ability to discriminate not only native phonetic contrasts, but also non-native ones. However, recent research suggests that not all contrasts are equally discriminable. Children cannot discriminate some acoustically similar phonetic contrasts early in infancy. They need a certain period of exposure with these contrasts to learn to discriminate them. In this study we inquired if similar lexical tones are discriminable in young infants. Mandarin-learning 4-13-month-olds’ categorization of Mandarin rising and dipping tones were assessed in a visual habituation procedure. The results show that infants successfully categorized the two similar tones. Index Terms: infant speech perception, language acquisition, categorization, lexical tones