Prosody Transfer and Suppression: Stages of Tone Acquisition

Chilin Shih, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Hsin-Yi Dora Lu, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This study investigates how native English speakers acquire Mandarin lexical tones, and whether they can express declarative and question intonation in a tone language. Production errors suggest three stages of tone learning. The first stage is characterized by a high error rate resulting from prosody transfer. The second stage shows moderate success in the suppression of L1 prosody especially in the utterance-initial positions. In the third stage, the error rate is low and the error patterns suggest that it is difficult to maintain tonal contrast in unstressed positions and with question intonation. Both male and female learners in general succeeded in suppressing declarative intonation but all female learners in the study failed to suppress question intonation. No learners in this study succeeded in using native-like declination for statements.