The acquisition of English pitch accents by Mandarin Chinese speakers as affected by boundary tones

Author(s): Xing Liu and Xiaoxiang Chen


This study investigates how Mandarin Chinese (MC) speakers learn English pitch accents under the influence of L1 prosody system. Based on Speech Learning Model (SLM), it is hypothesized that MC speakers will produce H* better than L* since MC speakers tend to associate stressed syllables with higher pitch. Another hypothesis is that MC speakers will produce pitch accents better in the sentence-final position due to tonal crowding effects and interrogative intonation features of MC. To test these hypotheses, 5 native English speakers and 12 MC speakers are invited to produce English declaratives and interrogatives so that different pitch accents can be elicited. A non-word pair of DAga and daGA only differing in stress position are embedded in sentence-medial and final positions. ToBI labeling shows how well MC speakers learn H* and L* respectively. Further statistical analyses of acoustic measures of pitch range and F0 change slope were conducted to triangulate the phonological data. The results show that MC speakers produce pitch accents as predicted. The study extends SLM in that learners encounter more difficulties in similar intonational categories as predicted.