Native prosodic systems and learning experience shape production of non-native tones

Author(s): Mengyue Wu, Janet Fletcher, Rikke Bundgaard-Nielsen and Brett Baker


This study investigates how native prosodic systems and second language (L2) learning experience shape non-native tone production. Speakers from tone language backgrounds (native Cantonese and Mandarin speakers [CS & MS]) and non-tone language backgrounds (English monolinguals [ES] and English speakers with Mandarin learning experience [EM]) produced the six Cantonese tones in an imitation task. The results suggest systematic effects of native prosodic systems on L2 tone production, regardless of tone or non-tone language backgrounds. MS have more problems with pitch height whereas ES tend to produce every tone in a level shape, which echoes the findings from previous perception studies. Further, MS’s ability to integrate their native sensitivity to pitch height, along with their Mandarin training in pitch contour, contributes to their exceptional performance in producing the new tone language. Importantly, EM speakers performed better than MS speakers, suggesting that L1 experience with tone may be less helpful to learners than L2 tone acquisition experience, even when this L2 experience is with a different tone language (here Mandarin).