Context effects on tone and intonation processing in Mandarin

Author(s): Min Liu, Yiya Chen and Niels Schiller

Abstract

This study investigated how Mandarin listeners process tone and intonation when the F0 encodings of the lexical tone and intonation are in conflict or in congruency and the role context plays during these processes. Tone and intonation identification experiments were conducted within neutral vs. constraining semantic contexts. Tone identification was much easier than intonation identification irrespective of contexts. Participants could perceive tones accurately and quickly in both question and statement intonation. However, intonation identification was greatly deteriorated within the neutral semantic context. Questions ending with a rising tone and a falling tone were equally difficult to identify. In a constraining semantic context, questions ending with a falling tone were much better identified. Thus, top-down information provided by the constraining semantic context does play an important role in disentangling intonation information from tone information.

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