CQ was supported by NIH institutional training grant T32 DC00041-12 via Center for Research in Language, NIH-NICHD F32 HD065382, and NIH-NIDCD K99 DC013795 (http:// www.nih.gov/). SCC was supported by NSF BCS- 1057080 and NSF BCS-1230003 (http://www.nsf. gov/).
Language acquisition, Bilingualism, Sociolinguistics
Previous research has mainly considered the impact of tone-language experience on ability to discriminate linguistic pitch, but proficient bilingual listening requires differential processing of sound variation in each language context. Here, we ask whether Mandarin-English bilinguals, for whom pitch indicates word distinctions in one language but not the other, can process pitch differently in a Mandarin context vs. an English context. Across three eye-tracked word-learning experiments, results indicated that tone-intonation bilinguals process tone in accordance with the language context. In Experiment 1, 51 Mandarin-English bilinguals and 26 English speakers without tone experience were taught Mandarin-compatible novel words with tones. Mandarin-English bilinguals out-performed English speakers, and, for bilinguals, overall accuracy was correlated with Mandarin dominance. Experiment 2 taught 24 Mandarin-English bilinguals and 25 English speakers novel words with Mandarin like tones, but English-like phonemes and phonotactics. The Mandarin-dominance advantages observed in Experiment 1 disappeared when words were English-like. Experiment 3 contrasted Mandarin-like vs. English-like words in a within-subjects design, providing even stronger evidence that bilinguals can process tone language-specifically. Bilinguals (N = 58), regardless of language dominance, attended more to tone than English speakers without Mandarin experience (N = 28), but only when words were Mandarin-like -- not when they were English-like. Mandarin-English bilinguals thus tailor tone processing to the within-word language context.
Quam C, Creel SC (2017) Mandarin-English Bilinguals Process Lexical Tones in Newly Learned Words in Accordance with the Language Context. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0169001. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0169001