Perception and Production of Laryngeal Contrasts in Mandarin and English by Mandarin Speakers

Yuting Guo

Major Professor: Harim Kwon, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Steven Weinberger, Douglas Wulf

Online Location,
June 17, 2020, 02:00 PM to 06:00 PM


Word initial stops contrast on many acoustic dimensions and the acoustic realization of the laryngeal contrast is different across languages. The language-specific hybrid of acoustic cues for the laryngeal contrast shapes how speakers and listeners represent and identify the contrast. This dissertation explores how Mandarin speakers produce and perceive the laryngeal contrasts in their native language (L1) Mandarin and the second language (L2) English, focusing on F0 (fundamental frequency) perturbation patterns. By doing so, this study aims to contribute to the theoretical discussion of production-perception link, the L1-L2 interface, and the cross-linguistic comparison between tonal and non-tonal languages.
This dissertation features two sets of experiments: Mandarin speakers’ L1 production and perception experiments (§3), and Mandarin speakers’ L2 production and perception experiments (§4). Mandarin speakers’ L1 experiments (§3) examined the acoustic cues that Mandarin speakers use to produce and perceive Mandarin aspiration contrast. The current work observed a high initial tone and low initial tone effect in producing the aspiration contrast. The F0 following aspirated stops (F0-aspirated stops) was significantly higher than the F0 following the unaspirated stops (F0-unaspirated stops) in the high level tone and the falling tone, but was significantly lower than the F0 following unaspirated stops in the rising and the dipping tone. The duration of significant F0 differences between the F0-aspirated stops and the F0-unaspirated stops was limited to the onset of the vowel, ranging from 11 ms to 75 ms. In perception, the voice onset time (VOT) was the primary cue for the aspiration judgement. Moreover, native Mandarin listeners could extract both tonal and consonantal information from the post-onset F0 patterns. The listeners tended to associate high pitch with aspirated stops and low pitch with unaspirated stops across the four tonal contexts. The high initial tone and low initial tone effect was also observed in the perception task. The low initial tones elicited significant more unaspirated responses than the high initial tones. 
Mandarin speakers’ L2 experiments (§4) investigate native Mandarin speakers’ perception and production of the English voicing contrast with parallel tasks from the L1 experiments. Overall, the F0 following voiceless stops (F0-voiceless stops) was produced significantly higher than the F0 following voiced stops (F0-voiced stops). The duration of significant F0 differences between the F0 following the voiceless and voiced stops was shorter than that produced by native English speakers. In perception, the native Mandarin listeners used VOT as a primary cue and pitch as a secondary cue for the English voicing contrast. They tended to associate high F0 with voiceless stops and low F0 with voiced stops. The intrinsic F0 of the vowels also played a role on the voicing identification task. It seemed that the listeners tended to attribute the high F0 they hear to the intrinsic F0 of the vowel rather than the voicelessness feature of the preceding stop when VOT was ambiguous.
The findings in this dissertation indicated that the F0 perturbation effect was primarily an automatic effect. It is mainly a F0 raising effect of the member with long lag VOT due to phonetic aspiration. The comparison of Mandarin speakers’ L1 and L2 production suggested that the speakers from a tonal language inhibited the F0 perturbation effect to keep the tonal information intact. In sum, the parallel studies of the laryngeal contrast across languages and modalities in this dissertation offer insight into between-language (tonal vs. non-tonal) and within-language (production vs. perception) variations of how Mandarin speakers-listeners use different acoustic properties to contrast laryngeal features in their native language and how they adapt the information of individual acoustic cues when they learn a second language. Along with the findings, this dissertation also provides a balanced corpus for testing models of perception-production link as well as L1-L2 interface. This work also exhibits the acoustic representation of physiological/aerodynamic factors in defining the speakers-listeners’ way to categorize the sound categories in their L1 and L2.