Tone Attrition in Mandarin Speakers of Varying English Proficiency Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine whether the degree of dominance of Mandarin–English bilinguals' languages affects phonetic processing of tone content in their native language, Mandarin. Method We tested 72 Mandarin–English bilingual college students with a range of language-dominance profiles in the 2 languages and ... Research Article
Newly Published
Research Article  |   January 25, 2017
Tone Attrition in Mandarin Speakers of Varying English Proficiency
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Carolyn Quam
    Center for Research in Language, University of California, San Diego
  • Sarah C. Creel
    Department of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego
  • Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication. ×
  • Carolyn Quam is now at the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Portland State University
    Carolyn Quam is now at the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Portland State University×
  • Correspondence to Carolyn Quam: cquam@pdx.edu
  • Editor: Jody Kreiman
    Editor: Jody Kreiman×
  • Associate Editor: Ewa Jacewicz
    Associate Editor: Ewa Jacewicz×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Newly Published / Research Article
Research Article   |   January 25, 2017
Tone Attrition in Mandarin Speakers of Varying English Proficiency
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, Newly Published. doi:10.1044/2016_JSLHR-S-15-0248
History: Received July 16, 2015 , Revised January 14, 2016 , Accepted March 7, 2016
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, Newly Published. doi:10.1044/2016_JSLHR-S-15-0248
History: Received July 16, 2015; Revised January 14, 2016; Accepted March 7, 2016

Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine whether the degree of dominance of Mandarin–English bilinguals' languages affects phonetic processing of tone content in their native language, Mandarin.

Method We tested 72 Mandarin–English bilingual college students with a range of language-dominance profiles in the 2 languages and ages of acquisition of English. Participants viewed 2 photographs at a time while hearing a familiar Mandarin word referring to 1 photograph. The names of the 2 photographs diverged in tone, vowels, or both. Word recognition was evaluated using clicking accuracy, reaction times, and an online recognition measure (gaze) and was compared in the 3 conditions.

Results Relative proficiency in English was correlated with reduced word recognition success in tone-disambiguated trials, but not in vowel-disambiguated trials, across all 3 dependent measures. This selective attrition for tone content emerged even though all bilinguals had learned Mandarin from birth. Lengthy experience with English thus weakened tone use.

Conclusions This finding has implications for the question of the extent to which bilinguals' 2 phonetic systems interact. It suggests that bilinguals may not process pitch information language-specifically and that processing strategies from the dominant language may affect phonetic processing in the nondominant language—even when the latter was learned natively.

Acknowledgments
The first author was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Institutional Training Grant T32 DC00041-12 via the Center for Research in Language, University of California, San Diego; NIH Grant F32 HD065382; and NIH Grant K99-R00 DC013795. The second author was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) Grants BCS-1057080 and BCS-1230003. This work would not have been possible without the tremendous assistance of bilingual undergraduate research assistants Sally Chou, Abraham Chen, Vivian Yu, Allen Hsu, Christina Lin, Guan Wang, Angela Wang, and Kaili Guo, as well as lab manager Heather Pelton. Tamar Gollan graciously allowed us to use her Multilingual Naming Test materials, Alexandra Dunn and Jean Fox Tree responded thoughtfully and promptly to questions about their Bilingual Dominance Scale, Jing Shen and Crane Huang consulted on the Mandarin language, and Roger Levy consulted on both Mandarin and statistics.
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