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Mandarin tone 3 sandhi is a phonological alternation in which the initial tone 3 (i.e., low tone) syllable changes to a tone 2 (i.e., rising tone) when followed by another tone 3. The present study used a cross-modal syllable-morpheme matching experiment to examine how native speakers process the sandhi sequences derived from verb reduplication and compounding, respectively. Embedded in a visually-presented sentential context, a disyllabic sequence containing a sandhi target was displayed simultaneously with a monosyllabic audio, either a tone 1 (i.e., high-level tone), tone 2 (i.e., rising tone) or tone 3 (i.e., low tone), and participants judged whether the audio syllable matched the visual morpheme. Results showed that the tone 3 sandhi was processed differently in the two constructions. The underlying tone and the surface tone were co-activated and competed with each other in sandhi compounds whereas predominant activation of the underlying tone, over the surface tone, was observed in reduplication. The processing of tone 3 sandhi offers support for distinctive morphological structures: a lexical compound is represented both as a whole-word unit and as a combination of two individual morphemes whereas a verb reduplication is represented and accessed as a monomorphemic unit in the mental lexicon.
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published: 26 August 2021
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.713665
Frontiers in Psychology | 1August 2021 | Volume 12 | Article 713665
Edited by:
Caicai Zhang,
The Hong Kong Polytechnic
University, China
Reviewed by:
Xiaocong Chen,
Hong Kong Polytechnic
University, China
Yu-Fu Chien,
Fudan University, China
Yaxuan Meng,
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Feier Gao
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Language Sciences,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 23 May 2021
Accepted: 21 July 2021
Published: 26 August 2021
Gao F, Lyu S and Lin C-JC (2021)
Processing Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi
at the Morphosyntactic Interface:
Reduplication and Lexical
Front. Psychol. 12:713665.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.713665
Processing Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi
at the Morphosyntactic Interface:
Reduplication and Lexical
Feier Gao 1
*, Siqi Lyu 2and Chien-Jer Charles Lin 3
1Department of Linguistics, Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, IN, United States, 2Institute of Psychology,
University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia, 3Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Indiana University Bloomington,
Bloomington, IN, United States
Mandarin tone 3 sandhi is a phonological alternation in which the initial tone 3 (i.e., low
tone) syllable changes to a tone 2 (i.e., rising tone) when followed by another tone 3. The
present study used a cross-modal syllable-morpheme matching experiment to examine
how native speakers process the sandhi sequences derived from verb reduplication
and compounding, respectively. Embedded in a visually-presented sentential context,
a disyllabic sequence containing a sandhi target was displayed simultaneously with a
monosyllabic audio, either a tone 1 (i.e., high-level tone), tone 2 (i.e., rising tone) or
tone 3 (i.e., low tone), and participants judged whether the audio syllable matched the
visual morpheme. Results showed that the tone 3 sandhi was processed differently
in the two constructions. The underlying tone and the surface tone were co-activated
and competed with each other in sandhi compounds whereas predominant activation
of the underlying tone, over the surface tone, was observed in reduplication. The
processing of tone 3 sandhi offers support for distinctive morphological structures: a
lexical compound is represented both as a whole-word unit and as a combination of two
individual morphemes whereas a verb reduplication is represented and accessed as a
monomorphemic unit in the mental lexicon.
Keywords: Mandarin tone 3 sandhi, processing, underlying representation, surface representation, reduplication,
model of lexical representation
During spoken word recognition, language users access a word by mapping the speech input to the
stored representation. However, acoustic input often deviates from its phonemic representation
due to factors such as speech rate, speaker characteristics, co-articulation, and phonological
alternation (Weber and Scharenborg, 2012). Morphemes undergoing phonological alternations
surface as different allomorphs in the specific phonological environments, and the underlying-
surface mismatch thereby creates challenges to morpheme recognition (e.g., dog[z],cat[s],bus[iz]).
Therefore, when processing phonologically alternated sequences in connected speech, the acoustic
input itself is often insufficient for spoken word recognition (e.g., Nolan, 1992; Gaskell and
Marslen-Wilson, 1996). The current study aims to investigate how native speakers represent
and access the underlying and the surface representations at the suprasegmental level—tonal
representation in Mandarin Chinese.
Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi
Mandarin is a four-way tonal language in which each syllable
carries a phonemic tone that distinguishes meanings: Tone 1 is
a high-level tone (T1, /m¯
a/ “mother”), Tone 2 is a rising tone
(T2, // “hemp”), T3 is a low tone (T3, /mˇ
a/, “horse”), and
Tone 4 is a falling tone (T4, // “scold”). In addition to these
four lexical tones, unstressed syllables in Standard Mandarin are
referred to as carrying a “neutral tone” (T0; Chao, 1968). The
tonal features of a neutralized syllable are not fully realized, as
the duration of the neutralized syllable is often shortened, and the
pitch is determined by the tone of the preceding syllable (Chao,
1968; Chen, 1999; Duanmu, 2007).
Mandarin T3 sandhi is an example of tonal alternation where
a low T3 syllable obligatorily surfaces as a rising tone (T2) when it
is followed by another T3 syllable. T3 sandhi leads to a mismatch
between the surface and the underlying tone representations as
the sandhi word is underlyingly /T3+T3/ but gets realized as
[T2+T3] on the surface. This phonological alternation has been
attested to consistently apply across different lexical frequency
ranges and degrees of lexicality, i.e., occurring in both real and
nonce words (Zhang and Lai, 2010), indicating that it is a very
productive alternation rule. For example, the compound word li-
jie “to understand” consists of two T3 morphemes, i.e., li /T3/ “to
notice” and jie /T3/ “to solve” where the lexical tone of the first
morpheme li changes from T3 to T2 as it is followed by another
T3 syllable (i.e., li-jie /T3+T3/[T2+T3] “to understand”). In
addition to lexical compounds, T3 sandhi can also occur in
reduplicative structure. When the base morpheme carries a T3,
e.g., xiang /T3/ “to think,” T3 sandhi is derived after the base
reduplicates and the initial/base morpheme changes from T3 to
sandhi T2, e.g., xiang /T3/ T2+T3 xiang-xiang [T2+T0]
“to think for a little while.”
T3 sandhi poses important processing questions to theories of
lexical access and representation for Chinese words. A disyllabic
T3 sandhi sequence creates a mismatch between the underlying
and surface representations, as the sandhi syllable is underlyingly
T3 but gets realized as T2 in the surface representation. This
phenomenon raises questions of how native speakers access the
underlying and the surface forms during online processing, and
how disyllabic words that involve T3 sandhi are stored and
accessed in the mental lexicon. As T3 sandhi is a phonological
alternation that occurs at the lexical level, we need to review the
theories of lexical access and representation of Chinese complex
words before moving onto the processing of T3 sandhi.
Morphological Representation of Mandarin
In Mandarin Chinese, about 70% of the words are disyllabic
(Duanmu, 2000), mostly compounds made of two free
morphemes (Li and Thompson, 1981). The dominance of
the compounding structure and the salience of the individual
morphemes make Mandarin Chinese an interesting case for
studies of word recognition. There are two major views central
to the representation of compound words in Mandarin Chinese:
(1) the single-layer morphemic model, which postulates that
polymorphemic Chinese words are represented as a combination
of separate morphemes in the mental lexicon, and (2) the
two-layer representation model, which postulates that both the
whole word and the individual morphemes are represented
and accessed.
Early work of Zhang and Peng (1992) represented a
morpheme-based approach for processing Mandarin Chinese,
arguing that Chinese words are stored in a morphologically
decomposed form in the mental lexicon. They conducted a series
of visual lexical decision experiments on coordinative (e.g., fu-
xiong “father and elder brother”) and modifier-noun compounds
(e.g., mu-xiao mother-school “alma mater”). A positive character
frequency effect was found for both constituent positions in
coordinative compounds whereas only for the second constituent
(the stem) in modifier-noun compounds. Zhang and Peng (1992)
argued that the explicit morphological structure is represented
in the mental lexicon and the polymorphemic word is accessed
through the word’s stem. Because both morphemes function as
heads in coordinative compounds, they were equally activated
in the lexical access. In modifier-noun compounds, the second
constituent played a dominant role over the first constituent,
and the structural information facilitated the stem activation but
inhibited the modifier activation.
Later studies employed priming tasks to further probe the
structural influence on Chinese compound word recognition. For
example, Ji and Gagné (2007) conducted a visual-visual priming
lexical decision tasks on modifier-noun compounds, in which
disyllabic primes and targets varied on the semantic relations
between the modifiers and the nouns. They found a facilitatory
effect when the prime and target matched on their semantic
relations both on modifiers (e.g., shu-dian “bookstore” and shu-
jia “bookcase”) and on nouns (e.g., bing-dian “cookie store”
and ri-dian “day store”). They also found that the facilitation
was lost when target head appeared 350 ms before the whole
compound was presented, whereas such prolonged exposure
to the modifier did not lead to the loss of facilitation. Ji and
Gagné thus concluded that the prolonged display of the modifier
cannot promote the pattern of relation priming, whereas the
increased exposure to the head noun increases the relation
priming associated with it. They attributed the results to the
stronger role for head noun in the processing of modifier-noun
compounds in Chinese. These outlined studies pointed to the
decompositionality of Chinese words, emphasizing the role of
morphological structure in lexical processing.
On the other hand, disyllabic word meaning is not always fully
predictable from the compositionality of individual morphemes.
Therefore, it is necessary to also consider a whole-word level
of representation regarding lexical access in Chinese. Zhou and
Marslen-Wilson (1994, 1995) proposed a Multi-level Cluster
Representation Model, which assumed that both the whole-
word lexical entries and the explicit morphological structure are
represented in the mental lexicon. This model argues against
the single-layer, morpheme-based approach and utilizes both the
lexicalist representations and the morpheme-based combinatory
account regarding the lexical access for Chinese compounds. Two
following studies further instantiated this two-layer model.
Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1994) used an auditory lexical
decision task to examine the morphological processing of
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
Chinese disyllabic real words (compounds) and non-words. The
whole-word, morpheme and syllable frequencies of the 1st or 2nd
constituent of the compound were systematically manipulated
in three experiments. Their results, overall, showed that word
frequency plays a dominant role in spoken word recognition
of real compounds and this effect does not interact with either
the morpheme or syllable frequency of either the 1st or the
2nd constituent. The observed word frequency effect suggested
that the whole word unit is the more salient representation
level than the morphemic or the syllabic level during the
compound processing in Chinese. In addition, they found that
compound processing involves decomposing a word into its
morphemes, as the syllable frequency of the 1st constituent
showed an effect of slowing down the lexical decision time in
both real compounds and non-words. Zhou and Marslen-Wilson
(1994) thus concluded that Chinese disyllabic compounds are
represented both at the word and morphemic levels, which allows
the whole-word lexical unit to be analyzed syllable by syllable as
the word is heard.
Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1995) further conducted a series
of auditory-auditory repetition priming tasks in five disyllabic
prime-target relationships. In the identical condition, the prime
and the target were identical (e.g., ju-ben “play script” vs. ju-
ben “play script”); in the morphological condition, the prime and
the target shared the same morpheme (e.g., ju-chang “theater”
vs. ju-ben “play script”); in the homophonic condition, the
prime and the target shared the same syllable representations
but not the same morphemes (e.g., ju-pa “fear” vs. ju-ben
“play script”); in the homographic condition, the prime and the
target shared the same Chinese characters but not the same
morphemes (e.g., ju-lie “violent” vs. ju-ben “play script”); and
the baseline condition in which the prime and the target were
unrelated (e.g., chuang-li “originate” vs. ju-ben “play script”).
Constituent positions (i.e., either the 1st or 2nd constituent of
the compound) were systematically manipulated in both the
primes and the targets. They found a facilitatory priming effect
(relative to the baseline condition) in the identical and the
morphological condition irrespective of the critical morpheme’s
position, but the morphological priming size was reduced when
the prime and the target matched on their first constituents
as opposed to on the second ones. Zhou and Marslen-Wilson
concluded that the repeated access to the same morpheme
shared between primes and targets facilitated the compound
recognition in the morphological condition. When matched
on the first constituents, the prime and target words formed
cohort members on the word level (e.g., ju-chang “theater”
vs. ju-ben “play script”) and the cohort competition weakened
the morpheme-level facilitatory effect. In the homophonic
and homographic conditions, a facilitatory priming effect was
found when the prime and target matched on their second
constituents, an inhibitory effect when matched on their first
constituents, and a null effect when the second constituent
of the prime and the first constituent of the target matched.
Zhou and Marslen-Wilson attributed the inhibitory effect to
the word-level cohort competition between words sharing
the homophonic initial syllables, the facilitatory effect to the
pre-activation of the homophonic second morpheme without
the presence of word-level cohort competition, and the null
effect to the cancellation between the word-level competition
and the morpheme-level facilitation. Zhou and Marslen-Wilson
(1994, 1995) thus proposed a two-layered lexical representation
model for investigation on disyllabic Chinese words, combining
the morpheme and the whole-word representations in the
mental lexicon.
While most previous studies focused on the representation
and access of Chinese compounds, the morphological
construction beyond compounding has received limited
attention. Verb reduplication, a productive morphological
process in Standard Mandarin, provides an interesting case
for probing the morphological representation in Mandarin
Chinese. In Standard Mandarin, verb reduplication adds a sense
of casualness to the base verb, meaning to do something “a
little bit” or “for a little while” (Li and Thompson, 1981; Tsao,
2001; Xiao and McEnery, 2004). For instance, the monosyllabic
verb ting /T1/ “to listen to” can be reduplicated to mean “to
listen for a little while,” as in ting-ting “to listen-RED.” In the
disyllabic verb reduplication, the monosyllabic base maintains
a lexical tone (e.g., T1 in the first syllable of ting-ting) while the
tone of the reduplicant syllable obligatorily neutralizes to T0
(e.g., the second syllable in ting-ting carries T0). Disyllabic verb
reduplication presents a different morphological structure from
compounding, as the latter is created through the combination
of two individual morphemes while the former is derived by
reduplicating a monomorphemic word (base).
Some studies have put forward a syntactic account for
representing Mandarin verb reduplication. They argue that the
reduplicant syllable is not lexically encoded but serves as an
affix (Li and Sui, 2009; Sui, 2018) and the reduplicated full form
constitutes a morphological construction above the word level
(Arcodia et al., 2014; Sui and Hu, 2016; Basciano and Melloni,
2017; Xie, 2020). In terms of morphological representation, while
previous studies found that both morpheme and whole word
play a salient role in the lexical access of compound words
(Zhou and Marslen-Wilson, 1994, 1995), it remains unknown
how disyllabic verb reduplication is represented in the mental
lexicon and whether a reduplicated verb is accessed as a disyllabic
unit or a monomorphemic word during online processing. In
addition, when the two morphological constructions—lexical
compounds and verb reduplication—both involve T3 sandhi,
the morpho-phonological interaction further poses questions of
whether tone sandhi sequences derived from two distinctive
morphological processes are represented and accessed differently
during online processing.
Disyllabic compounds in Mandarin Chinese undergo T3
sandhi when both morphemes are T3 syllables. Tonal mismatch
is created between the underlying and surface levels of
representation, as the initial syllable is realized as an underlying
T3 at the morphemic level but a sandhi-surfaced T2 at the
word level. In the Mandarin verb reduplication that is inflected
from a T3 base morpheme, T3 sandhi applies on the initial
syllable while the second syllable is further reduced to T0 due
to tone neutralization. For example, the monosyllabic base verb
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
xiang /T3/ “to think” reduplicates to xiang-xiang “to think a
little while,” with the following derivation of tones: /T3/ +RED
/T3/ +/T3/ [T2] +[T3] [T2+T0]. The T3 sandhi
pattern suggests that T3 is realized on the reduplicant, therefore
triggering T3 sandhi before it is neutralized (Packard, 1998; Xu,
2001; Sui, 2018). The initial syllable is underlyingly T3 at both
the morphemic and word levels but surfaces as a sandhi T2
in the disyllabic reduplicated form. In verb reduplication, tone
neutralization gives rise to an opaque surface sequence [T2+T0]
where the original sandhi environment (i.e., a T3 – T3 sequence)
is lost in the phonetic output. While most previous studies
have exclusively investigated the processing of T3 sandhi within
the word level (i.e., compound), few studies, to our knowledge,
have examined how the reduplication-derived sandhi sequence
is processed.
Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
Regarding the representation of tones in words that involve
tone sandhi, three major views have been examined by
previous studies: the canonical representation view, the surface
representation view, and the underspecification (i.e., abstract
representation) view. The canonical representation view takes
the citation T3 as the underlyingly stored representation of the
sandhi syllable in the mental lexicon. The surface representation
view takes the surface T2 as the stored form that is directly
accessed during online processing. The underspecification view
postulates that the tonal representation of the sandhi syllable
abstracts away from specific tones; thereby both T2 and T3 audios
can be active and mapped onto the sandhi syllable.
Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1997) investigated these
representation views by conducting an auditory-auditory
priming lexical decision task. In their study, a disyllabic tone
sandhi target (e.g., cai-qu /T3+T3/ [T2+T3] “adopt”) was
preceded by either a disyllabic prime with a T2-initial morpheme
(e.g., cai-hua /T2+T2/ and [T2+T2] “talent”), a disyllabic
prime with a T3-initial morpheme (e.g., cai-hong /T3+T2/ and
[T3+T2] “rainbow”), or a control prime (e.g., tian-e/T1+T2/
“swan”). The first syllable in the T2 prime condition matched
the sandhi syllable on the surface tone (i.e., T2), the first syllable
in the T3 prime condition matched on the canonical tone
(i.e., T3), and the first syllable in the control prime (i.e., T1) is
unrelated to either the surface or the canonical tone. Their results
showed that the T3-initial prime facilitated the lexical decision
times for the sandhi target, whereas the T2-intial prime slowed
down the recognition for the sandhi target. Zhou and Marslen-
Wilson (1997) argued that the T3-initial prime pre-activated all
canonical T3 morphemes and T3-initial words, thus facilitating
the spoken word recognition of the sandhi target. They attributed
the inhibition in the T2 prime condition to the word-level cohort
competition between the co-activated sandhi-surfaced T2-initial
words, canonical T2-initial words and T2 morphemes. These
results were interpreted as supporting the surface representation
view. In another priming experiment, Zhou and Marslen-Wilson
(1997) used sandhi words as one of the prime conditions rather
than the target. In this experiment, a disyllabic target word with
a T2-initial morpheme (e.g., /cai-pan/ /T2-T4/ “referee”) was
preceded by a disyllabic prime with either a T2-initial morpheme
(e.g., /cai-chan/ /T2+T3/ “property”), a T3-initial morpheme
(e.g., /cai-na/ /T3+T4/ “adopt”), a sandhi-initial syllable (e.g.,
cai-fang /T3+T3/ [T2+T3] “gather material”), or a control
prime (e.g., yu-liao /T4+T4/ “predict”). An inhibitory effect on
the target word was found for each prime condition, suggesting
that canonical T2s, sandhi-surfaced T2s, and canonical T3s
could all create lexical competition with words containing a
T2-initial morpheme. Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1997) thus
concluded that they could not make a definite choice between
the surface and the canonical representation view, since neither
of them can accommodate the data from the two experiments.
The third view – the underspecification representation view,
according to Zhou and Marslen-Wilson, is less likely to account
for T3 sandhi word representation. It is not only because neither
of the experiments could support this view, but also due to the
theoretical concern that underspecifying tonal information in
Mandarin may lead to greater morphemic ambiguity and thus
higher level of competition and less efficiency during lexical
access and word recognition.
More recently, Chien et al. (2016) conducted an auditory-
auditory priming lexical decision task. In their experiment,
monosyllabic instead of disyllabic primes were used to avoid the
influence of the second syllables as shown in Zhou and Marslen-
Wilson (1997). Each disyllabic tone sandhi target (e.g., fu-dao
/T3+T3/ [T2+T3] “to counsel”) was preceded by either a
monosyllabic T3 prime (e.g., fu /T3/ “to guide”), a monosyllabic
T2 prime (e.g., fu /T2/ “to assist”), or a monosyllabic control
prime (e.g., fu /T1/ “to put on”). The pre-activation of a T3 prime
was found to facilitate the recognition of a sandhi target word,
compared with the control prime and the T2 prime, and there
was no inhibitory or facilitatory priming effect found in the T2
prime condition. According to Chien et al., the sandhi syllable
is represented as the canonical T3 and the speech input of a T3
syllable therefore facilitates the recognition of the sandhi words,
supporting the canonical representation view. These results were
partially consistent with the findings in Zhou and Marslen-
Wilson (1997), in the sense that a facilitatory effect was found
in the T3 prime condition, though the pre-activation of a T2
prime was not found to inhibit word recognition in Chien et al.
(2016). This study indicated the important role of underlying
representation during lexical access, arguing that the disyllabic
sandhi word is represented and accessed in its canonical form
/T3+T3/ in the mental lexicon.
Among a series of priming experiments in Meng et al. (2021),
two cross-modal semantic priming tasks were conducted to
examine the role of canonical and surface tone in sandhi word
representation. In their first experiment, the disyllabic sandhi
targets (e.g., da-sao /T3+T3/ [T2+T3] “to clean”) were
visually presented and preceded by one of three monosyllabic
audio primes that were minimally contrasted with the sandhi
syllable on tones (e.g., da /T3/ “to beat,da /T2/ “to answer” or
da /T4/ “big”). In their second experiment, the same set of audio
primes were used, but the visual targets were only semantically
related to the sandhi targets from the last experiment (e.g., qing-
li /T1+T3/ “to clean up”). They found that both the T2 and T3
audio primes (e.g., da /T3/ “to beat” and da /T2/ “to answer”)
could activate and facilitate the sandhi words as well as the
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
semantically mediated words. Meng et al. (2021) contradicted
Chien et al. (2016) in terms of the surface tone representation,
and they attributed the difference to two possible reasons. First,
the lack of T2 priming effect in Chien et al. (2016) could be due
to an inhibition effect rather than a lack of facilitation, since the
T2 prime and the sandhi syllable were homophonous. Second,
Meng et al. (2021) used a cross-modal paradigm with no interval
between the prime and target presentation, whereas Chien et al.
(2016) used an audio-audio priming task in which the target was
played 250 ms after the offset of the prime. The shorter interval
in the former study may thus lead to greater tonal activation than
in the latter.
While all three studies found a facilitatory priming effect in
the T3 prime condition, they diverged in terms of T2 priming
effects. The T2 prime was found to inhibit the recognition of
the sandhi targets in Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1997), facilitate
it in Meng et al. (2021), and have a null effect in Chien et al.
(2016). In summary, these studies consistently found that the
underlying tone is activated and accessible in sandhi processing
but the surface tonal representation is less clear in terms of its
priming effect.
Previous studies investigating the lexical access and
representation of T3 sandhi have exclusively focused on
the sandhi that occurs within compound words. Few studies,
if any, have taken into account morphological structures other
than compounding. While it has been found that spoken
word recognition can be affected by internal morphological
structures such as headedness (e.g., Zhang and Peng, 1992),
we suspect that the processing of T3 sandhi within different
types of morphological processes such as compounding and
reduplication should also exhibit different patterns.
In the present study, we compare the processing of T3
sandhi that occurs within two structures: lexical compounding
and reduplication of a monosyllabic verb stem. The lexical
compounds (hereafter referred to as T3-COM) are formed by
combining two underlyingly T3 morphemes, where the first
syllable undergoes T3 sandhi and the second syllable remains
T3 in the surface form (e.g., li-jie /T3+T3/ [T2+T3] “to
understand”). In the reduplication of a T3 base morpheme
(hereafter referred to as T3-RED), the first syllable undergoes
sandhi and surfaces as T2 whereas the tone of the reduplicant
(i.e., the second syllable of the sequence) gets neutralized to T0
(i.e., xiang /T3/ “to think” xiang-xiang [T2+T0] “to think
for a little while”). The comparison between T3-RED and T3-
COM allows us to probe the interaction between phonological
and morphological representations—how T3 sandhi is processed
in compounds and reduplication. The orderings of the tonal
alternations are provided in Table 1.
In addition, we included disyllabic non-sandhi verb
reduplication inflected from a monosyllabic T2 base verb
(hereafter T2-RED), which has identical morphological structure
as T3-RED except that it does not involve T3 sandhi (i.e., tan
/T2/ “to talk” tan-tan [T2-T0] “to talk for a little while”).
Both T2-RED and T3-RED are produced as [T2-T0] in the
speech output, but only T3-RED involves T3 sandhi. Compared
with T3-RED, in which the first syllable is underlyingly T3 but
surfaces as T2 in the phonetic form, T2-RED carries a more
transparent output where the first constituent is a T2 syllable in
both the underlying and surface forms.
The inclusion of T2-RED allows us to compare it with T3-
RED regarding the processing difference between non-sandhi
and sandhi reduplications. Based on the canonical representation
view of spoken word recognition, a “re-writing rule”, also known
as phonological inference, must apply to mediate the deviant
surface form and the underlying form in the context where
phonological alternation can take place. In terms of Mandarin
T3 sandhi, the surface T2 is expected to be co-activated in
the sandhi context, since it is the phonetic realization of the
sandhi syllable. Language users “rewrite” the surface T2 into
the underlying T3 so that they can map the audio input
to the underlying tonal representation (Pulman and Hepple,
1993; Gaskell and Marslen-Wilson, 1996, 1998). Recent studies
provided evidence that the sandhi construction does require
additional phonological processing effort compared to the non-
sandhi construction (Zhang et al., 2015). Native speakers need
to resolve the underlying-surface tone competition in the sandhi
construction but not in the non-sandhi context (which does not
involve tonal alternations). By investigating sandhi processing in
a reduplicated structure, we hope to examine how phonological
inference works in an opaque sandhi context where the second T3
syllable is neutralized as T0 in the phonetic output (i.e., T3-RED).
The research goal of our study is thus twofold. First, we
investigate the processing of Mandarin T3 sandhi in two different
morphological processes—reduplication and compounding (T3-
RED vs. T3-COM), probing whether morphological structures
influence the representation and access of T3 sandhi sequences.
Second, we contrast the processing differences between sandhi
and non-sandhi syllables in a reduplicated structure (T2-RED
vs. T3-RED). The present study thus hopes to extend the
previous findings on T3 sandhi processing by also considering
morphological processing of Mandarin Chinese.
Across-modal syllable-morpheme matching experiment was
conducted where the visual target word was presented in a
sentence to match against an audio syllable. A monosyllabic
audio, either a T1, a T2, or a T3, was played at the onset of the
disyllabic visual target word. Participants were asked to make
decision as to whether the audio stimuli matched the initial
syllable of the visual target word. Three target constructions
for the visual target word were: (1) a reduplicated sandhi verb
T3-RED, (2) a compound sandhi verb T3-COM, and (3) a
reduplicated non-sandhi verb T2-RED.
Thirty-two native Standard Mandarin speakers (22 females,
10 males; mean age of 25.28 years [range, 19–36], SD =
3.80) participated in the experiment and we included 30 of
them in our data analysis. As for the two participants that
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
TABLE 1 | Tonal derivations of verb reduplication and lexical compounds.
Underlying form /T2/ (+T2) /T3/ (+T3) /T3 +T3/
Tone sandhi T2 - T3 T2 - T3
Tone Neutralization T2 - T0 T2 -T0
Surface form [T2 - T0] [T2 -T0] [T2 - T3]
Example tanT2 tanT2-tanT0 xiangT3 xiangT2-xiangT0 liT3-jieT3 liT2-jieT3
“to talk for a little while” “to think for a little while” “to understand”
Syllables that undergo tonal alternations are boldfaced and underlined.
we excluded: one is from Guangdong where Cantonese is
the dominant language spoken, and the other is from Taiwan
where the Mandarin variety is influenced by Taiwanese Southern
Min and other Southern dialects. These two participants self-
reported that they speak dialects (Cantonese and Hakka) in
addition to Mandarin. As noticed by the experimenter, these two
subjects were also unable to produce the neutral T0 even when
prompted after the experiment. All of the remaining participants
self-reported that they speak Standard Mandarin (Putonghua)
as their dominant language and find themselves to be more
comfortable with speaking Putonghua than other dialects. Of
these 30 participants, 20 are from Northern China and self-
reported speaking Mandarin and Northern Mandarin dialects, 5
are from Central China (transitional regions between Northern
and Southern China) and speak Mandarin and Mandarin
subdialects, 1 is from Chengdu, Sichuan and speaks Mandarin
and Southwestern Mandarin dialect, 2 are from Shanghai
and speak Mandarin and some Shanghainese, 2 self-reported
migration history across two or more dialectal regions before
adulthood and speak Mandarin as their primary language. The
experimenter did not notice any obvious accent from them
during personal interaction. This study received IRB approval,
and each participant gave verbal consent and received a $10 cash
payment for participation.
To construct visual stimuli for target words, 15 underlyingly
/T3+T3/ verb compounds, 15 T3 monosyllabic verbs, and 15
T2 monosyllabic verbs were selected based on the following
principles. First, the monosyllabic verbs are able to be
reduplicated for the delimitative meaning. Second, the initial
syllables can be legitimately combined with T1, T2, and T3
so that these auditory stimuli are all real words in Mandarin.
Third, to control for the internal morphological structure of
the compounds, all the compound words bear a coordinative
structure, such as yan-jiang /T3+T3/ “to give a speech”,
which is made of two verb morphemes yan T3 “to perform”
and jiang T3 “to talk”. The frequencies of monosyllabic
base morpheme of reduplication, initial morpheme of disyllabic
compound, and disyllabic full form (whole word frequency of
compound and reduplicated form frequency of reduplication)
were retrieved from The Chinese Web Corpus zhTenTen 2017
(accessed via Sketch Engine, a
family of Chinese corpora (with 13.5-million-word size) built
from Internet texts. Full list of stimuli is provided in Appendix 1.
To avoid homophonic as well as homographic ambiguity
associated with the target items, each visual target was presented
in a carrier sentence and was visually presented in Chinese
characters. Presenting the target words in sentences provides
syntactic and semantic contexts for interpreting the target words.
The target words appear in the final position of the carrier
sentences, which had the same structure in all items. Visually,
the first character (target syllable) of the target word was coded
in red color to indicate that it was the syllable that the audio
input was supposed to represent. All sentences consisted of 10
Chinese characters.
For each sentence, a monosyllabic audio stimulus was played
at the onset of the target word presentation for participants to
match against the red-coded character. The audio stimuli were
recorded by a female native speaker of Standard Mandarin in
a sound-proof room using a vocal microphone at a sampling
rate of 44100 Hz and later segmented in Praat (Boersma and
Weenink, 2013). Each visual target word was paired with one of
the three monosyllabic audio files: a T3 syllable, a T2 syllable and
a T1 syllable, which were segmentally identical with the initial
morpheme and differed only on tones. The audio stimuli were
presented in a Latin-square design, such that each participant
would see a target word and hear one of its three corresponding
sound files only once. The syllable (homophone) frequency
of each audio file was retrieved from the online Cncorpus
语 语 (with 12.8-million-word size,
accessed via
that audio durations may be different between tonal categories
and thus affect participants’ reaction times, we measured the
whole-syllable and rhyme durations of each audio stimulus and
included them as predicting factors in the statistical analyses. The
descriptive statistics of the frequencies and durations are given in
Table 2 below.
We analyzed several additional factors to rule out potential
confounds on the stimuli, including stroke counts of the initial
character and both characters, cloze probability of the target
1We were unable to obtain all frequency data from a single corpus because the
reduplication stimuli cannot be found in many corpora (including the Cncorpus).
Considering that the frequency data were retrieved from a different corpus
(zhTenTen 2017), we used the standardized frequency (word count/total corpus-
size) to keep the results comparable.
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
TABLE 2 | Morpheme, full-form and syllable frequencies and durations.
Mean (sd) Mean (sd) Mean (sd)
Morpheme frequency 4.191 (4.921) 11.807 (20.775) 5.789 (7.936)
Full frequency 0.172 (0.273) 0.229 (0.654) 2.813 (3.168)
Syllable frequency T1 63.573 (174.320) 15.541 (23.829) 20.424 (35.986)
T2 17.035 (19.356) 51.375 (93.327) 32.034 (44.791)
T3 23.566 (52.982) 27.357 (38.111) 29.507 (47.329)
Audio T1 mean (sd) T2 mean (sd) T3 mean (sd)
Syllable duration (s) 0.469 (0.069) 0.500 (0.062) 0.487 (0.058)
Rhyme duration (s) 0.374 (0.037) 0.408 (0.037) 0.396 (0.033)
word in the sentential context (i.e., whether participants could
predict the final target word from the sentential context), and
whole-sentence naturalness scores.2Two-sample t-tests were
conducted for each variable in two comparisons: T3-RED vs.
T3-COM and T2-RED vs. T3-RED. The only variable that was
found to be significantly different between the constructions was
the naturalness scores of T3-RED and T3-COM (see Table 3).
These results indicated that verb reduplication appearing at the
sentence-final position was judged as less natural than lexical
compounds appearing in the same position. In case this effect
has an impact on participants’ reaction times or responses, we
included it as a predicting factor in our statistical analysis.
To disguise our research focus, we also included 100
additional disyllabic non-sandhi units presented in carrier
sentences as filler words (see Appendix 2). The audio stimuli
used for these fillers were segmentally identical to those of the
initial character of the filler words (also coded in red color) but
might contrast in tone (T1: n=30, T2: n=20, T3: n=22, T4:
The cross-modal syllable-morpheme matching experiment was
programmed on E-Prime 2.0 (Schneider et al., 2002) and run
on a desktop computer connected to a response box. The visual
stimuli were presented using black Simsun fonts (size 72pt)
on a white background, and the audio files were played to
participants over Sennheiser PC350 headphones. The experiment
was conducted in the Language and Cognition Laboratory at
Indiana University Bloomington.
Prior to the experiment, each participant completed a
background questionnaire self-reporting their age and language
background information. In the instructions, participants were
told that they would read a full sentence presented to them every
two characters at a time (in 5 separate windows) and an audio file
would randomly be played during one of the windows (Figure 1).
In each trial, an audio recording of a monosyllabic word began
playing as soon as the response word (i.e., target word or filler
word) displayed on the screen. Participants were instructed to
2The cloze probability task (n=17) and naturalness rating task (n=94) were
conducted with two different groups of native Mandarin speakers. The naturalness
rating scale was 1–100.
make decisions on whether the audio stimuli matched the sound
of the red-coded character in the response word by pressing
either Yes or No on the response box (marked in Chinese
characters, respectively) as quickly as possible. Participants did
10 practice trials before proceeding to the main experiment
session. Each trial began with a fixation cross at the center of
the screen. Subjects were instructed to press any key to start the
trial. The sentences were presented using the rapid serial visual
presentation (RSVP) paradigm in 5 consecutive windows, and
each window lasted 700 ms before being replaced by the next
window. Response words were embedded at either the 2nd, 3rd,
4th, or the last window in a pseudo-random order, so that subjects
did not know where to expect its occurrence. Proportions of the
response words occurring at final and non-final position were
balanced (49.7 vs. 50.3%). A blank screen appeared at the end of
each trial and lasted for 1,300 ms before next trial started.
Response words in the target sentences was always embedded
at the sentence-final position, which ensured that participants
were provided enough sentential context before the target, and
that no upcoming window would interrupt completion of the
matching task. Different from the target sentences, response
words in the filler sentences appeared in various positions of
the sentence to disguise our research focus. To make sure that
participants paid attention to the content of the sentences during
the experiment, half of the filler sentences were followed by a
binary comprehension question, which appeared on a separate
screen following the last window of the sentence. Participants
pressed the corresponding Yes or No key to answer the question.
Once an answer was made, the current trial was terminated, and
the program automatically proceeded to the next trial without the
1,300 ms blank screen. The total duration of the experiment was
around 30–40 min. Participants’ syllable-morpheme mapping
responses (Yes/No) and reaction times (RTs) were recorded for
analysis. RTs were measured from the onset of the target words
to the time of key pressing.
The mean accuracy for answering the comprehension questions
was 86.9% (SD =0.05) for the remaining 30 participants.
RTs longer than 2,000 ms were excluded, accounting for 4% of
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
TABLE 3 | Two-sample t-tests (T2-RED vs. T3-RED; T3-RED vs. T3-COM).
T2-RED T3-RED T3-COM t-value 1 t-value 2
Mean (sd) Mean (sd) Mean (sd)
Initial stroke 10.800 (3.802) 9.600 (3.225) 8.467 (3.021) 0.932 0.993
Total stroke 21.6 (7.604) 19.200 (6.450) 17.400 (4.881) 0.932 0.862
Cloze probability 0.063 (0.123) 0.047 (0.071) 0.078 (0.200) 0.428 0.573
Naturalness 39.990 (5.691) 41.141 (5.393) 57.974 (7.096) 0.568 7.315***
t value 1 is the result of the T2-RED vs. T3-RED, t value 2 is that of T3-RED vs. T3-COM.
The gray-shaded values indicate t-test significance. ***p<0.001.
FIGURE 1 | RSVP Experiment Demo (left to right: zhe-jian “this,” shi-qing
“thing,” qing-ni “please,” shao-wei “a little bit,” tan-tan “to talk”).
the total number of observations. Mixed-effects models were
fitted to response types (Yes/No) and RTs, respectively, using
lme4 package version 1.1–26 (Bates et al., 2015) in R version
4.0.3 (R Core Team, 2020). Response types were analyzed
as a binomial dependent variable using logistic linear mixed
effects model, and RTs, log-transformed to stabilize variance and
ensure normally distributed residuals (Box and Cox, 1964), were
analyzed using linear mixed effects models. Participant and Item
were included as random variables. The lmerTest package version
3.1–3 (Kuznetsova et al., 2017) in R was used for obtaining the
significance levels. We first present the results for response types,
followed by those for RTs.
Response Types
Percentages of response types for each construction are given in
Figure 2. Recall that T2-RED is inflected from a monosyllabic T2
base verb (tan /T2/ tan-tan [T2-T0] “to talk for a little while”),
T3-RED is inflected from a monosyllabic T3 base verb (e.g.,
xiang /T3/ xiang-xiang [T2-T0] “to think for a little while”),
and T3-COM is the compounding of two T3 syllables (e.g., li-
jie /T3+T3/ li-jie [T2+T3] “to understand”). A logistic linear
mixed effects model3with a ConstructionTone by-participant
and Tone by-item random slope was constructed first, and a
backward stepwise fitting was conducted to select the best fitting
3response constructiontone +(1+constructiontone|Subject) +
FIGURE 2 | Response types across three target constructions (StiTone refers
to the tone of the auditory stimulus item).
model based on Likelihood ratio test significance. A random-
slope model4was finally selected as the best fitting model, which
contains an interaction between Construction and Tone, as well
as the Tone by participant random slope, in predicting the results
of response types.
Pairwise comparisons with a Bonferroni correction, using
the emmeans package version 1.6.1 (Lenth, 2021) in R, were
conducted to assess the response differences. The percentages
of Yes responses to the audio files that matched the underlying
tones reached ceiling in all three constructions—T2 in T2-RED
(98.7%), T3 in T3-RED (97.9%), and T3 in T3-COM (91.8%),
suggesting that participants were highly accurate in mapping
the target syllable to the underlying tonal representations. It
provided evidence that during speech processing, the underlying
representation of the target syllable, whether it is in a sandhi
or a non-sandhi sequence, is overwhelmingly taken as the
target representation. Despite the ceiling accuracy in all three
constructions, post-hoc tests showed that the responses given to
the underlying tones were significantly different between T2-
RED and T3-COM (β= −2.045, t= −2.544, p<0.05) but not
between any other two constructions (ps>0.05). In contrast,
the Yes responses given to the T1 audio were consistently low
in all three constructions (5.3% in T2-RED, 2.7% in T3-RED,
and 0.7% in T3-COM). The floor acceptance rates suggested that
4response constructiontone +(1+tone|Subject) +(1|Item).
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
participants were able to reject the T1 audio across different
conditions. Post-hoc tests also showed that the responses were not
different among the three constructions (ps>0.05).
We also found that the percentage of Yes responses given to
the audio that matched the surface tone of sandhi syllable (i.e.,
T2) were different between sandhi reduplication (i.e., T3-RED)
and sandhi compounds (i.e., T3-COM). Participants gave more
Yes responses to the surface T2 audio in sandhi compounds
than in sandhi reduplication (26.6% in T3-RED vs. 52.4% in
T3-COM; β=2.176, t=5.244, adjusted p<0.001). It suggested
that, despite the ceiling acceptance of the underlying tone in all
constructions, participants were less consistent with the surface
tonal representation of a compound than that of a reduplication.
In summary, our results showed that participants could
successfully map the target syllable to its underlying
representation, regardless of whether it is in a sandhi
construction (i.e., T3-RED and T3-COM) or a non-sandhi
one (i.e., T2-RED). By contrast, participants were confused
in mapping the sandhi syllable to its surface representation.
More specifically, they were more inclined to reject the T2 in
reduplication than in compounds. As for sandhi compounds, the
higher acceptance rate given to the surface tone was in line with
the relatively lower acceptance rate for the underlying tone, in
comparison with sandhi reduplication. This result suggested that
the underlying and the surface representations were more likely
to compete with each other in lexical compounds, as opposed
to reduplication.
Reaction Times
The mean log-transformed RTs and standard deviations (sd) of
each condition (audio type +construction type +response type)
are provided in Table 4 below.
The remaining results are divided into two subsections.
The comparison between non-sandhi and sandhi reduplication–
T2-RED and T3-RED–is presented first, followed by the
comparison between the two morphological structures–T3-RED
and T3-COM.
Sandhi vs. Non-sandhi: T3-RED vs. T2-RED
To investigate the processing of sandhi vs. non-sandhi sequences,
we focus on two reduplicated conditions: T2-RED, which
inflected from a T2 base and surfaces as [T2+T0] in the output,
and T3-RED, which inflected from a T3 base and surfaces as
[T2+T0] as well. Note that the first syllable in T2-RED does
not undergo tone sandhi so the underlying and the surface
representations are identical (both are T2). Hence, rejecting the
T2 audio as well as accepting any audio syllables other than T2
should be considered incorrect (which was confirmed by the
floor acceptance rates of T1 and T3 for T2-RED in Figure 2).
For our analysis, we specifically focused on the RT data of
the Yes responses to T2 in T2-RED and the Yes responses
to T3 in T3-RED, which represent decisions of accepting the
underlying representations. Linear mixed effects model were
fitted to the RTs in T2-RED and T3-RED, with the following
factors included as the fixed predictors (continuous predictors
were z-scored):
Construction: categorical predictor with levels T2-RED
(reference level) and T3-RED, sum coded.
Morpheme frequency: continuous predictor based on the
morpheme frequency of the first character (i.e., red-coded) in
each visual target.
Full-form frequency: full-form frequency of each visual
target (i.e., the whole-word frequency of T3-COM and the
reduplicated-form frequency of T3-RED).
Syllable frequency: homophone frequency of each audio file.
Syllable duration: duration (ms) measured from syllable onset
to offset of each audio file.
Rhyme duration: duration (ms) measured from rhyme onset
to syllable offset of each audio file.
In this linear mixed effects model, we also included three
two-way interactions: Morpheme FrequencyConstruction,Full
FrequencyConstruction, and Syllable FrequencyConstruction.
We first constructed a full Construction by-participant random-
slope model containing all candidate predictors5and then
employed backward stepwise model selection. The full model was
first compared to a random-intercept-only model, and we found
that the more complex model was overfitted (χ2=0.638, df =
2, p=0.727). Then, starting from the most complex predictors
(i.e., two-way interactions) to the main effects, predictors were
eliminated if they did not improve model fitting based on the
likelihood ratio test significance. If a simpler model is not tested
to be significantly different from a more complex one (p>
0.05), we choose the simpler model and continue eliminating
more predictors until a significance is generated from model
comparison. The final model6output (Table 5) is given in
Table 5 below.
Based on the output in Table 5, we found a significant main
effect of Construction, indicating that the underlying tone of
the sandhi construction T3-RED was more effortful to process
than that of the non-sandhi construction T2-RED. The latency
in T3-RED, compared with T2-RED, was likely to be triggered
by the competition between the underlying T3 and the co-
activated sandhi-surfaced T2. It suggested that native speakers
“rewrote” the surface T2 into the canonical tone even in an
opaque context. While participants had to decide between the
underlying and surface forms in T3-RED for making a mapping
decision, the syllable-morpheme matching was transparent
and more straightforward in T2-RED since it involved no
tonal alternation. This result thereby supports the canonical
representation view.
We also found a significant interaction between Construction
and Syllable Frequency, with results showing that the frequency
effects were in opposite directions: in T2-RED, participants
tended to accept the (underlying) tone faster when the
(underlying) syllable frequency was higher (β= −0.011,
t= −1.303, p=0.194), whereas in T3-RED, they tended
5logRT construction +MorFreqconstruction +FullFreqconstruction
+SyllFreqconstruction +syllable.duration+rhyme.duration +
(1+construction|Subject) +(1|Item).
6logRT construction +MorFreq +SyllFreqconstruction +(1|Subject) +
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TABLE 4 | Mean RTs and SDs in each condition.
Audio T2-RED T3-RED T3-COM
Mean (sd) Mean (sd) Mean (SD)
Yes No Yes No Yes No
T1 6.598 (0.436) 6.630 (0.226) 6.777 (0.303) 6.693 (0.218) 6.645 (NA) 6.636 (0.202)
T2 6.678 (0.248) 6.423 (0.117) 6.845 (0.329) 6.775 (0.273) 6.795 (0.299) 6.828 (0.230)
T3 6.807 (0.445) 6.697 (0.241) 6.730 (0.245) 7.349 (0.189) 6.700 (0.233) 7.010 (0.364)
Standard deviation in responding Yes to T1 in T3-COM is not applicable (N =1).
TABLE 5 | Best fitting model for T2-RED vs. T3-RED comparison.
Estimate Std. Error df tvalue Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept) 6.70061 0.02847 33.61248 235.355 <2e-16***
construction1 0.10551 0.02984 263.52270 3.537 0.000479***
MorFreq 0.03544 0.01782 272.40455 1.988 0.047759*
SyllFreq 0.00777 0.04465 271.48153 0.174 0.861994
construction1:SyllFreq 0.22649 0.08658 266.35174 2.616 0.009408**
*p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001.
FIGURE 3 | Syllable Frequency effect in T2-RED vs. T3-RED comparison.
to take longer time to accept the underlying tone as the
underlying syllable frequency increased (β=0.012, t=
0.791, p=0.43). This is likely because in T3-RED, the
higher the input syllable (T3) frequency, the more frequently
it may show up as a sandhi tone, and thereby the tonal
competition between T3 and sandhi T2 is greater. This
result is also in line with the main effect of Construction,
further providing evidence for the canonical representation
view. In contrast, higher syllable frequencies facilitated
the syllable-morpheme mapping in T2-RED since there
was no tonal competition involved. See Figure 3 for the
interaction plot.
In addition, higher morpheme frequency shortened the RTs
regardless of construction type, as participants accepted the
underlying tones significantly faster when the target morpheme
frequency was higher. This result is interesting in the sense that,
as opposed to the tonal competition at the phonological level,
the surface tone did not seem to interfere with the processing at
morphemic level. The inclusion of the full-form frequency was
not found to improve the model fitting therefore it was removed
in the final model.
Taken together, although both surfacing as [T2+T0] in
the phonetic form, sandhi reduplication showed a distinct
processing pattern from a non-sandhi one. Both the main effect
of Construction and the Syllable Frequency interaction suggested
that processing the sandhi reduplication was more effortful
than the non-sandhi one, likely because language users had to
sort through the canonical representation and the co-activated
surface representation in the sandhi construction. These patterns
suggested that native speakers still parse the T3-RED as a
sandhi-undergoing construction even though it surfaces in an
opaque output.
Reduplication vs. Compounding: T3-RED vs. T3-COM
Motivated by our research question of how T3 sandhi is
processed in compounds and reduplication, we fitted mixed
effects linear regression models to the RT data of processing
T3-RED and T3-COM (where the underlying tone is T3
and the surface tone is T2). In this mixed effects model,
Construction (T3-RED and T3-COM, sum coded with T3-
RED as the reference level) is the variable of interest. In
addition to the predictors mentioned in the last subsection, we
also included Naturalness, which was tested to be significantly
different between T3-RED and T3-COM. To take into account
the potential response effect reported in Response Types, we
coded the response-audio combinations with four categorical
levels: “yes-underlying”, meaning that the participants gave a Yes
response to the underlying T3 audio, “no-underlying”, meaning
that the participants gave a No response to the T3, “yes-surface”,
meaning that the participants gave a Yes response to the surface
T2 audio, and “no-surface”, meaning that the participants gave a
No response to the T2. We named this 4-level variable as Decision
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
and included it as a predictor in our model. Because T1 was
irrelevant to either the underlying or the surface form of the
sandhi syllable and it was rejected in both constructions as we
expected, we excluded the T1 data from the RT analysis.
We included several interactions that we are interested
in. A two-way interaction between Construction and Decision
was included, allowing us to examine differences in sandhi
processing between compounds and reduplication with
the response effect taken into account. We also included
a series of three-way interactions, Morpheme/Full/Syllable
FrequencyConstructionDecision, to assess whether morphemic-
, full-form- and phonological-level frequency, respectively,
modulates the T3 sandhi processing in different constructions
(motivated by Multi-level Cluster Representation Model analysis
by Zhou and Marslen-Wilson, 1994, 1995). Following the same
backward model selection as we conducted in Response Types
and Sandhi vs. Non-sandhi: T3-RED vs. T2-RED, we constructed
a full model7with a ConstructionDecision by-participant
and Decision by-item random slope first and predictors each
eliminated in a stepwise fashion if they did not significantly
improve model fitting. The final model8output is included in
Table 6 below.
We found a significant main effect of Decision, as well
as two-way interactions of DecisionConstruction,Morpheme
FrequencyDecision, and Full FrequencyConstruction on RTs.
The inclusion of the syllable frequency did not improve the
model fitting; therefore it was removed in the final model. Our
data, overall, showed that T3 sandhi was processed differently in
compounds and reduplication and that the multi-level frequency
effects participated unequally during processing.
Pairwise comparisons with a Bonferroni correction, using the
emmeans package version 1.6.1 (Lenth, 2021), were conducted
to further examine the significant two-way interaction between
DecisionConstruction, broken down by construction type, i.e.,
T3-RED and T3-COM. In both constructions, “no-underlying”
elicited longer RTs than did “yes-underlying” (T3-RED: β=
0.642, t=4.262, p<0.001; T3-COM: β=0.295, t=3.825, p
<0.001) but with a greater magnitude in T3-RED than in T3-
COM (T3-RED: p=0.0001; T3-COM: p=0.0009), suggesting
that rejecting the underlying representation was harder than
accepting it and this difference was greater in reduplication.
We found that “no-surface” was not significantly different from
“yes-surface” in both constructions (ps>0.05). This pattern
indicated that participants were confused whether the T2 audio
matched the sandhi syllable, irrespective of construction. Also,
for both constructions, the differences between “yes-surface” and
“yes-underlying” were non-significant (ps>0.05), suggesting
that efforts of accepting the surface tone and the underlying
tone were similar between reduplication and compounds. The
RT difference between “no-surface” and “no-underlying” was
7logRT decisionconstruction +MorFreqdecisionconstruction
+FullFreqdecisionconstruction +SyllFreqdecisionconstruction
+syllable.duration+rhyme.duration+naturalness +
(1+decisionconstruction|Subject) +(1+decision|Item).
8logRT decisionconstruction +MorFreqdecision +FullFreqconstruction +
(1|Subject) +(1|Item).
significant in T3-RED (β= −0.597, t= −3.946, p<0.001)
but not in T3-COM (β= −0.166, t= −2.074, p>0.05),
suggesting that the efforts between rejecting the surface tone and
the underlying tone were different in reduplication but not in
compounds. See Figure 4 for RT visualization.
These results suggested that in both constructions, (1)
rejecting the underlying T3 was harder than accepting it, and
(2) participants were confused at parsing the sandhi syllable as
its surface T2. These patterns suggested an overall dominant
effect of underlying tone representation in T3 sandhi processing,
as participants were inclined to access the sandhi syllable as
a T3 rather than a T2, irrespective of construction. Moreover,
we observed an easier access to the surface tone in sandhi
compounds than in sandhi reduplication, suggesting a stronger
role of the surface representation during the tonal mapping in
the former than in the latter.
The interaction of Morpheme FrequencyDecision suggested
that the frequency effect at the morphemic level was significantly
different across decision types. Based on the model output in
Table 6, the morpheme frequency effect was significant in “no-
underlying” as compared with the baseline “yes-underlying,
suggesting that the RT difference between rejecting and accepting
the underlying tone increases as the morpheme frequency
increases. We then switched the baseline to “no-underlying”
and further found that the frequency effect in “no-surface” was
significant (β= −0.268, t= −2.447, p<0.05), indicating
that the RT difference between rejecting the surface tone and
the underlying tone decreases as the frequency increases. These
results overall suggested that the increasing morpheme frequency
promoted the effect of underlying tonal representation, as in
both sandhi constructions, rejecting the underlying tone became
more effortful than accepting it whereas rejecting the surface tone
became easier than rejecting the underlying tone. The morpheme
frequency effect, on the other hand, did not show significant
difference between the decisions “yes-surface” and “no-surface
(p>0.05). It indicated that the increasing frequency effect at the
morphemic level did not make it easier to accept the surface tone
than reject it (neither the other way around).
Table 6 also showed a distinct full frequency effect on the T3
sandhi processing between the two morphological constructions
(Figure 5), suggesting an inhibitory full frequency effect in T3-
COM. More specifically, participants reacted more slowly to
sandhi compound words with higher lexical frequency, regardless
of which decision they made or which audio tone they heard. This
inhibitory lexical frequency effect might seem to contrast with
previous findings where high frequency words were identified
faster than low frequency words (e.g., Marslen-Wilson, 1987;
Goldinger et al., 1989). However, while priming studies focus
on spoken word recognition, our present study deals with
the explicit tone-morpheme mapping, where participants made
matching decisions regarding whether the audio syllable matched
the visual morpheme or not. On one hand, both response types
and RTs results confirmed the dominant role of the underlying
T3 representation over the surface T2; on the other hand, the
initial morpheme of a sandhi compound is always realized as
a T2 on the surface. As word frequency increases, the initial
morpheme is more often realized as a sandhi T2 in the mental
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
TABLE 6 | Linear mixed effects regression model: T3-RED vs. T3-COM.
Estimate Std. Error df tvalue Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept) 6.682546 0.029827 46.49497 224.0443 <2e-16***
Decisionyes-surface 0.095379 0.028837 574.2961 3.307535 0.001000**
Decisionno-underlying 0.433249 0.082829 566.0419 5.230656 2.38e-07 ***
Decisionno-surface 0.085368 0.023446 558.7801 3.641098 0.000297***
construction1 0.003755 0.042135 173.645 0.089118 0.929091
MorFreq 0.013347 0.015426 72.22392 0.865224 0.389781
FullFreq 0.04898 0.034962 46.5351 1.40088 0.167884
Decisionyes-surface:construction1 0.02284 0.055373 541.2572 0.41255 0.6801
Decisionno-underlying:construction1 0.34667 0.157713 549.2381 2.19809 0.028359*
Decisionno-surface:construction1 0.084684 0.047077 538.234 1.798829 0.072606 .
Decisionyes-surface:MorFreq 0.0125 0.023962 547.8875 0.52148 0.602247
Decisionno-underlying:MorFreq 0.279218 0.109363 556.1608 2.553126 0.010942*
Decisionno-surface:MorFreq 0.011093 0.018877 542.1806 0.587612 0.557037
Construction1:FullFreq 0.162761 0.073361 29.44491 2.218623 0.034374*
. p <0.1; *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001.
FIGURE 4 | RTs between construction and response types.
lexicon. When participants heard a T3 audio, they thus had to
overcome stronger competition from the surface tone in the
tonal mapping. Similarly, upon hearing a T2 audio, although
the surface representation is promoted by high lexical frequency,
the underlying tone still imposed a dominant influence on the
tonal mapping. Taken together, the increasing lexical frequency
gave rise to a more salient surface tone competitor in sandhi
compound, triggering latency in the sandhi processing. In
contrast, T2 saliency was not observed in sandhi reduplication
since the processing of T3 sandhi was not inhibited by the
increasing full-form frequency. That is, participants consistently
parsed the sandhi syllable as a T3 rather than a T2 in the
reduplicated construction.
In summary, our results showed that in both sandhi
compounds and sandhi reduplication, participants were more
inclined to map the sandhi syllable to its underlying T3
rather than surface T2. Despite the dominant underlying tonal
representation in both constructions, the role of surface tone was
still more salient in compounds than in reduplication. Moreover,
we found that the frequency effect at the morphemic level showed
Frontiers in Psychology | 12 August 2021 | Volume 12 | Article 713665
Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
FIGURE 5 | Full Frequency effect in T3-RED vs. T3-COM comparison.
different patterns across decision types. An inhibitory full-form
frequency effect was found in the sandhi compound construction
only. The higher morpheme frequency effect promoted the
underlying tone by making the rejection of the T3 harder, and
the higher lexical frequency made the surface tone a stronger
competitor to the underlying tone, thus causing an overall
inhibition on tonal mapping.
The current study investigated how the Mandarin T3 sandhi
derived by two morphological processes—reduplication
and compounding—are represented and processed. We
presented findings of a cross-modal syllable-morpheme matching
experiment, in which participants judged whether the audio
stimuli matched the visual morpheme. The results presented here
shed light on the morphology-phonology interface in Mandarin
Chinese and its influence on T3 sandhi processing. First, while
the underlying tone was equally available in sandhi and non-
sandhi reduplication, it was more effortful to access in the sandhi
construction due to tonal competition. Second, morphological
differences influence the processing of T3 sandhi. The underlying
and the surface representations are both activated and engage
in a competition under the modulation of frequency effects
in the compounds, but the surface representation is relatively
weakly activated in sandhi reduplication and serves as a weaker
competitor of the underlying tone. The distinct processing
patterns of T3 sandhi further provide insight into how Mandarin
compounds and verb reduplications are represented in the
mental lexicon.
Processing Sandhi in Different
Morphological Processes
In both sandhi compounds and reduplications, we found that
the underlying representation was strongly activated and can be
mapped to the target morpheme. This result is consistent with the
findings in Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1997),Chien et al. (2016)
and Meng et al. (2021), where the pre-activation of a T3 prime
facilitated the recognition of sandhi targets. Our data support the
canonical representation view that the sandhi syllable, whether
derived by compounding or reduplication, is represented as
its underlying form in the mental lexicon. The strong role of
the underlying representation has also been corroborated by
previous priming studies on words that involve phonological
alternation (Lahiri et al., 1990; Gaskell and Marslen-Wilson,
1996; Gow, 2001, 2002; Luce et al., 2001). Interestingly, we found
that the strong accessibility of the underlying representation
extends to a rather opaque phonological context—Mandarin
verb reduplication where T3 sandhi and tone neutralization
jointly induces an opaque [T2+T0] pattern in the speech output.
Presumably, the lack of the sandhi context on the surface
should make it harder for participants to access the underlying
tone. However, this opacity did not keep native speakers from
making phonological inferences on the sandhi-surfaced initial
syllable, as the underlying tones are equally accessible in the
opaque (e.g., T3-RED) and transparent (e.g., T2-RED and T3-
COM) structures. While the underlying representation plays a
strong role across constructions, the accessibility of the surface
representation is different in the two morphological processes—it
is more accessible in compounds than in reduplication.
Let’s now put together the findings of several studies, including
Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1997),Chien et al. (2016),Meng et al.
(2021), and ours to understand how tone sandhi is processed
in lexical compounds. Recall that Chien et al. (2016) found no
priming effects between T2 primes and T3 sandhi words in an
auditory-auditory priming experiment. Both Zhou and Marslen-
Wilson (1997) and Meng et al. (2021) found that T2 primes can
affect the recognition of sandhi words, despite that the priming
effect was inhibitory in the former and but facilitatory in the
latter. Our study also found the surface tone T2, in addition to
the underlying T3, is associated with the sandhi syllable of a
compound word.
Considering these findings, we suspect the diverse findings
may be due to task differences. First of all, Chien et al. (2016)
adopted an audio-audio priming experiment with an SOA of
250ms while Meng et al. (2021) adopted a cross-modal audio-
visual priming task with an SOA of 0ms. The differences between
these two studies suggest that accessing a visually presented
sandhi compound word can be facilitated by hearing the same
sandhi syllable in its surface/output form at the time when
the visual word appears. The delay of just 250ms and the
audio presentation mode may already cause the priming effect
to disappear. Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1997), on the other
hand, used primes that are made of disyllabic (compound)
words and found a homophonic inhibitory effect between a
T2 prime and a sandhi word. These results suggest that a
T2 activates both canonical T2-initial words and T3 sandhi
words, thus creating competition in lexical access. Overall, Zhou
and Marslen-Wilson (1997) pointed toward competition effects
between words that share initial syllables even when these
syllables are T3 underlyingly but T2 on the surface.
Our results complemented previous findings by
demonstrating the relation between surface tone representations,
underlying representations and frequency effects in different
constructions. The saliency of the surface T2 was modulated by
the whole-word frequency; its representation was more accessible
when the word frequency increases. The discovery of the surface
T2 effect can also be partially attributed to the research paradigm
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
that we used in the current study. Similar to the design of Meng
et al. (2021), we also employed a cross-modal paradigm where an
audio input was matched against a visual word (though in our
case, the target words were presented in sentences), with an SOA
of 0 ms. Our task directly taps into the auditory representations
associated with sandhi syllables, thus encouraging a more
deliberate decision based on phonological representations. Taken
together, our results support the canonical representation view
as well as recognize the role of the surface T2 in the lexical access
for sandhi-involved compounds.
Disyllabic verb reduplication, on the other hand, exhibits
a distinct processing pattern from lexical compounds. Our
results show that while the underlying tone representation was
strongly activated, the surface tone representation was relatively
weak and less likely to be accepted. This pattern was not
modulated by any frequency effects. In the verb reduplication
that involves T3 sandhi, the base morpheme is underlyingly
T3 and realized as a sandhi T2 in the reduplicated full form.
The dominant role of the underlying tone over the surface
tone indicates that the morphemic representation of these
reduplicated monomorphemic verbs is more accessible than
the disyllabic full form. This pattern also suggests that native
speakers parse the verb reduplication as a reduplicated form
of the monosyllabic morpheme that links with the underlying
tone representation in the lexicon. Notwithstanding the ceiling
accuracy on mapping the sandhi syllable to its underlying tone,
participants were slowed down by the co-activated surface T2,
as opposed to in the non-sandhi construction. This sandhi-
triggered latency indicates that the competition between the
underlying and surface tone still exists in sandhi reduplication.
Therefore, we confirm the canonical representation view in the
processing of sandhi verb reduplication, and that the surface tone
exerts a less important role in the processing of verb reduplication
than in sandhi compounds.
As pointed out by one of the reviewers, our results that
both T2 and T3 are active during sandhi processing may also
support representation views other than the canonical and
surface accounts. Evidence supporting these alternative accounts
mainly comes from electrophysiological experiments using an
oddball paradigm. In this particular paradigm, a repetition
of audio stimulus (standard) is played to listeners, with a
deviant occurring at unexpected positions occasionally. Upon
hearing the oddball stimuli, deviation from the standard yields a
mismatch negativity (MMN) response, and the amplitude of the
MMNs can be modulated by acoustic-phonetic information (e.g.,
fundamental frequency) as well as phonological differences (e.g.,
features such as [CORONAL] and [LABIAL]). For example, the
amplitude of the MMNs is smaller if the standard is prototypical,
i.e., underspecified, and the deviant is atypical, i.e., fully specified
(Eulitz and Lahiri, 2004; Näätänen et al., 2007; Cornell et al.,
2013). Using the oddball paradigm to probe the representation
of Mandarin tone that involves phonological alternation, Li
and Chen (2015) constructed four standard/deviant conditions:
T1/T3, T3/T1, T2/T3, T3/T2. They found asymmetric MMN
effects between T2/T3 and T3/T2 but not between T1/T3 and
T3/T1. The MMN amplitude was smaller when T3 is the standard
and T2 the deviant, as opposed to the reversed condition, leading
them to propose that T3 is represented in both its canonical form
and its allophonic variant form (i.e., sandhi tone) in the mental
lexicon. These results support the multi-variant account for
Mandarin T3 representation, as triggered by the influence of tone
sandhi. Politzer-Ahles et al. (2016) further examined Mandarin
tonal representation by comparing the MMN effects among all
possible combinations of the four tones. Their results showed
constant asymmetric MMN effects between the conditions that
involved a T3—the MMNs were always smaller whenever T3
was a standard whereas always larger whenever T3 was used
as a deviant. Politzer-Ahles et al. (2016) thus concluded that
Mandarin T3 is always underspecified, compared to the other
three Mandarin tones.
Both Li and Chen (2015) and Politzer-Ahles et al. (2016)
used monosyllabic audio and supported the representation views
other than the canonical or the surface account. However,
since T3 sandhi is a phonological alternation that occurs at
the multisyllabic lexical level, it remains less clear whether
these results obtained by using the pre-attentive EEG measure
can account for the representation of lexical sequences. Chien
et al. (2020), to our knowledge, is the only study that used the
oddball paradigm to probe the representation of disyllabic T3
sandhi words. In their study, four types of standard stimuli were
constructed: a disyllabic T2-initial word /T2+T4/, a disyllabic
T3-initial word /T3+T4/, a disyllabic sandhi word /T3+T3/
[T2+T3], and a mixture of disyllabic sandhi and T3-initial words.
The deviant was always a monosyllabic T2 word. Their results
showed MMN effects in both the T2 and the T3 condition
but not in the sandhi or the mixed condition. According
to Chien et al. (2020), the different MMN effects between
the conditions T2+T4/T2 (standard/deviant) and T3+T3/T2
(standard/deviant) suggested that distinct neural mechanisms
were required between processing the T2 standard words and
the sandhi standard words. Moreover, Chien et al. (2020) argued
that the lack of the MMN effect in the sandhi condition could
have two possible interpretations: (1) that the sandhi standard
was not parsed as either a T2 or a T3 word; otherwise we
should expect the similar MMN effects as observed in the T2
and the T3 word condition, or (2) that participants productively
“rewrote” the initial sandhi syllable as well as the deviant T2 to an
underlying T3, thereby no mismatched response was elicited in
the sandhi standard condition. These two explanations proposed
by Chien et al. (2020) did not differentiate the underspecified and
the canonical representation views specifically. Therefore, their
results did not provide direct support for the underspecification
of sandhi syllables in the mental lexicon.
There are also theoretical issues that make the underspecified
view inherently problematic. First, Mandarin tones distinguish
lexical meanings and reduces ambiguity during word
recognition; therefore, all lexical tones should be specified
in Mandarin Chinese. Also noted in Zhou and Marslen-Wilson
(1997), since all T3 morphemes can potentially undergo T3
sandhi, underspecifying the tonal information would make
lexical access inefficient and involve greater competition. Second,
underspecified phonemes usually have default or unmarked
features, e.g., coronal place of articulation, whereas Mandarin
T3, with the falling-rising pitch contour, is usually considered the
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
most complex and the least frequent tone among the four tonal
categories (Zhang and Lai, 2010). Third, underspecified feature
often assimilates to a specified one within phonological context,
e.g., the underspecified [CORONAL] feature assimilates to the
neighboring [LABIAL] feature (/in-balance/[im-balance]).
Following this logic, the underspecified Mandarin T3 would
assimilate to a more specified tonal feature. However, Mandarin
T3 sandhi is clearly a process of dissimilation where the first T3
changes to a T2 when followed by another T3. Therefore, the
claim that Mandarin T3 is underspecified cannot fully account
for the T3 sandhi rule occurring at the lexical level.
Similar issues also exist for the multi-variant representation
view. As proposed by Li and Chen (2015), Mandarin T3 syllable
is stored both as its canonical T3 and allophonic sandhi tone.
With respect to the representation of disyllabic lexical word, this
view should predict that both T3 and T2 can be mapped onto T3-
initial words, including both non-sandhi T3 words and T3 sandhi
words. However, four experiments conducted in Meng et al.
(2021) showed that the representation of T3-initial words may
not be fully accounted for by this view. For instance, although
both T3 and T2 primes were found to facilitate the recognition
of sandhi target/mediator (discussed in section Tone 3 Sandhi
Processing in this paper), only T3 prime could activate the non-
sandhi T3-initial word (e.g., only fan3 primes fan-she /T3+T4/
“reflection”) and the non-sandhi mediator (e.g., only nao3 primes
tou-bu /T2+T4/ “head”). These results indicate that both T3 and
T2 can activate T3 words but only within a sandhi context, and
that the multi-variant monosyllabic T3 representation may not
be directly relevant to lexical representations.
Back to our current study, the underspecified or multi-variant
representation view should predict equal activation between
the underlying T3 and the surface T2, with the two tones
being mapped to the sandhi syllable with similar percentages
and effort. However, this prediction was not supported by our
data—the underlying T3 still exhibited a dominant role over
the surface T2, and the latter also showed unequal activation
between compounds and reduplication. Taken together, the
underspecification view and the multi-variant view still require
further examination in terms of the representation of Mandarin
tones, as well as that of disyllabic sandhi sequences.
Morphological Representation Models for
Compounding and Reduplication
To understand the role of morphological structure (i.e.,
reduplication and compounding) in processing T3 sandhi, we
propose a Multi-level Representation Model for Tonal Processing
in Mandarin Chinese (Figure 6), which was inspired by the
Multi-level Cluster Representation Model (Zhou and Marslen-
Wilson, 1994, 1995). Our model links the underlying and
surface tone representations to different morphological levels. In
Figure 6, phonological forms (syllables with tones) are presented
with pinyin-number combinations, in which the underlying
representations are coded in blue and surface representations
in red. The styles of connecting lines demonstrate the strength
of tonal accessibilities in each morphological level—solid lines
indicate stronger associations between morpheme and tonal
forms whereas dashed lines indicate weaker connections.
For complex words that involve phonological alternations like
T3 sandhi, the underlying and the surface tones are realized
at different morphological levels. Take the disyllabic sandhi
compound li-jie /T3+T3/ [T2+T3] as an example; for
the sandhi morpheme li /T3/, the canonical T3 links to the
morphemic level while the T2 surfaces at the lexical level. In our
model, the sandhi surfaced T2 is also linked to the morpheme
as an alternative tonal form, posing a weak influence at the
morphemic level, whereas the role of surface tone becomes
greater at the word-level representation. The availability of both
T3 and T2 during sandhi processing indicates that both the
morpheme and the word level are actively represented in the
mental lexicon and they compete with each other during lexical
access, accounting for the inhibitory word frequency effect.
Notice that the thickness of lines illustrate the different strengths
of association between the T3 and T2. Based on our results,
T3 is predominantly activated over T2 in sandhi compounds.
This representation is similar to the two-layer lexical access
model proposed by Zhou and Marslen-Wilson (1994, 1995),
which postulates the combination of morphemic and whole-
word representations in the mental lexicon.
The T3-inflected verb reduplication, on the other hand,
contains a base verb and a reduplicant in its morphological
structure. Similar to sandhi compounds, the base morpheme is
represented as a T3 at the morphemic level with an alternative
T2 linked. It corroborates with our results in Reduplication
vs. Compounding: T3-RED vs. T3-COM that the morpheme
frequency exerts similar effects in sandhi compounds and sandhi
reduplication. Unlike compound words, reduplication is still
represented as its base morpheme at the full-form lexical
level where the surface T2 serves as a relatively weaker tonal
competitor as opposed to that in sandhi compounds. The base
morpheme is phonetically realized as a sandhi T2 post-lexically
at the reduplicated output, which can be taken as a level higher
than the full lexical form. The ceiling accuracy for the underlying
tone suggests that the level of base morpheme is strong for
the representation of reduplication. The surface T2, however,
was less available as opposed to the underlying T3, providing
evidence that native speakers are more inclined to decompose
the reduplicated full form (associated with T2) into its base
morpheme. As a result, the underlying T3, which is associated
with the morpheme/word level, is readily accessible in tonal
processing, whereas the sandhi surfaced T2 is only indirectly
linked to the morpheme/word. Our findings suggest that verb
reduplication in Mandarin is represented and accessed through
a monomorphemic T3 word (i.e., xiang /T3/ “to think”) in
the mental lexicon. On the other hand, for the disyllabic verb
reduplication inflected from a T2 base morpheme, the tonal
representations associated with the morpheme and the full form
are identical—which is T2 across all levels. Therefore, accessing
the underlying T2 in these reduplicated forms is relatively easy as
it does not involve competition between an underlying tone and
a sandhi surfaced tone.
During the online processing for verb reduplication, both the
sandhi and non-sandhi, the reduplicated [T2+T0] full form is
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
FIGURE 6 | Multi-level representation model for tonal processing.
accessed through its monomorphemic base (e.g., tan /T2/ “to
talk” and xiang /T3/ “to think”). Although verb reduplication
is represented as two characters orthographically, only the base
morpheme is accessed during lexical access, which is similar to
the “affix-stripping” operation (Andrews, 1986; Rastle et al., 2004;
Longtin and Meunier, 2005; McCormick et al., 2009; Beyersmann
et al., 2011). Our results corroborate that verb reduplication is a
different morphological structure from compounding, in that the
second constituent likely serves as an affix to the base morpheme
and that the whole reduplicated form is not stored as a lexical
entry (Li and Sui, 2009; Sui, 2018).
Using the processing of T3 sandhi as a window, the current
study provides evidence for the morphological representations
of Mandarin Chinese lexicon. Our data support the two-
layer representation for processing Mandarin compounds (Zhou
and Marslen-Wilson, 1994, 1995), as both morphemic and
whole-word representations are accessed and these two layers
may engage in competition during lexical processing. The
processing pattern for disyllabic verb reduplication, in contrast,
is more appropriately accounted for by the morpheme-based
representation (Caramazza et al., 1988; Zhang and Peng, 1992),
in which the head morpheme as well as its associated tone exhibit
greater strength. The disyllabic reduplicated form is not directly
retrievable from the lexicon and requires active application of the
phonological alternation at the inflectional level. While previous
studies mostly focused on T3 sandhi presented in isolated
compound words, the present study provided new data targeting
sandhi expressions in two distinct structures—compounding and
reduplications. It is also worth noting that, to better motivate
reduplicated forms, our study presented the targeted expressions
in sentential contexts.
Limitations and Future Directions
We acknowledge some limitations of this study. First, the
audio stimuli and target morphemes (in both target and filler
trials) only minimally contrasted in tones, not in segments.
Although we did not explicitly instruct the participants to
do so, such minimal pairings might cause them to pay more
attention to the tonal information; as a result, they may become
more aware of the difference between T3 and T2. Second, the
participants that we recruited in the current study have diverse
dialectal backgrounds. The different tonal systems in Chinese
dialects could insert a potential influence on the mapping
results. Third, we only selected coordinative verb as the targeted
compound stimuli, in which both constituents can serve as heads.
It still remains unknown whether the results of the current
study can extend to the lexical compounds of other structures
(e.g., modifier-noun), the sequences containing consecutive
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Gao et al. Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi Processing
T3s, and the T3 sandhi that applies across word boundaries.
Future research is needed to further examine the processing
of tone sandhi within different types of morphologically
complex units.
In summary, the present study investigated the representation
and processing for the Mandarin T3 sandhi sequences derived
from two morphological processes—verb reduplication and
compounding. We found that the underlying tone exerts a
dominant influence on both construction types, whereas the
surface tone is more accessible in compounds and is easy
to bypass in reduplication. Our study has implications for
the interface between the phonological and morphological
representations. For lexical compounds, both the whole words
and the morphemes are salient levels for morphological
representation, and the tonal representations (T2 and T3,
respectively) associated with these two levels are activated
and compete with each other during sandhi processing.
In contrast, the monomorphemic base, rather than the
reduplicated full form, is stored in the lexical entry for verb
reduplication, and thus the tonal representation associated
with the morpheme/word level (e.g., T3) has predominant
activation than the derived tone beyond the lexical form
(e.g., T2). The current study provides promising evidence
that phonological alternations, such as T3 sandhi, can help
us understand the differences of morphological structures
of Mandarin Chinese, and its importance for understanding
speech processing.
The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be
made available by the authors, without undue reservation.
The studies involving human participants were reviewed and
approved by Indiana University Human Research Protection
Program (HRPP). Written informed consent for participation
was not required for this study in accordance with the national
legislation and the institutional requirements.
FG came up with the research ideas, conducted the experiment,
ran statistics, and wrote and revised the manuscript. SL built up
the experiment, ran statistics, and analyzed and discussed the
data with FG. C-JL discussed the research ideas and designs with
FG and SL, oversaw the experiment execution, data analysis and
interpretation, and revised and edited the manuscript. The study
was conducted in the Language and Cognition Laboratory of
Indiana University, directed by C-JL, and financially supported
by a research grant of C-JL. All authors contributed to the article
and approved the submitted version.
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Frontiers in Psychology | 18 August 2021 | Volume 12 | Article 713665
... Even regarding tone sandhi, some recent research suggests that different processing mechanisms may be involved in the tone sandhi processing in other Chinese dialects (Chang et al., 2019;Chien et al., 2017;Yan et al., 2020Yan et al., , 2021. Moreover, the application of tone sandhi is also subject to other factors such as morphosyntactic structure and prosodic structure (Chen, 2000), and recent research suggests that the processing of disyllabic Mandarin T3 sandhi words with different morphological structures (e.g., lexical compounds vs. reduplication) may also differ (Gao et al., 2021). Future research should elucidate the processing of different types of phonological alternations and the interaction with other high-level linguistic factors including syntax and semantics and delineate the conditions or contexts that will affect the processing mechanisms. ...
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Pronunciation of words or morphemes may vary systematically in different phonological contexts, but it remains unclear how different levels of phonological information are encoded in speech production. In this study, we investigated the online planning process of Mandarin Tone 3 (T3) sandhi, a case of phonological alternation whereby a low-dipping tone (T3) changes to a Tone 2 (T2)-like rising tone when followed by another T3. To examine the time course of the encoding of the abstract category-level (underlying form) and context-specific phonological form (surface form) of T3, we conducted an electroencephalographic (EEG) study with a phonologically-primed picture naming task and examined the event-related potentials (ERPs) time-locked to the stimulus onset as well as speech response onset. The behavioral results showed that targets primed by T3 or T2 primes yielded shorter naming latencies than those primed by control primes. Importantly, the EEG data revealed that T3 primes elicited larger positive amplitude over broad frontocentral regions roughly in the 320–550 ms time window of stimulus-locked ERP and −500 to −400 ms time window of response-locked ERP, whereas T2 primes elicited larger negative amplitude over left frontocentral regions roughly in the −240 to −100 ms time window of response-locked ERP. These results indicate that the underlying and the surface form are encoded at different processing stages. The former presumably occurs in the earlier phonological encoding stage, while the latter probably occurs in the later phonetic encoding or motor preparation stage. The current study offers important implications for understanding the processing of phonological alternations and tonal encoding in Chinese word production.
To investigate Mandarin Tone 2 production of disyllabic words of prelingually deafened children with a cochlear implant (CI) and a contralateral hearing aid (HA) and to evaluate the relationship between their demographic variables and tone-production ability. Thirty prelingually Mandarin-speaking preschoolers with CI+HA and 30 age-matched normal-hearing (NH) children participated in the study. Fourteen disyllabic words were recorded from each child. A total of 840 tokens (14 × 60) were then used in tone-perception tests in which four speech therapists participated. The production of T2-related disyllabic words of the bimodal group was significantly worse than that of the NH group, as reflected in the overall accuracy (88.57% ± 16.31% vs 99.29% ± 21.79%, p < 0.05), the accuracy of T1+T2 (93.33% vs 100%), the accuracy of T2+T1 (66.67 ± 37.91% vs 98.33 ± 9.13%), and the accuracy of T2+T4 (78.33 ± 33.95% vs 100%). In addition, the bimodal group showed significantly inferior production accuracy of T2+T1 than T2+T2 and T3+T2, p < 0.05. Both bimodal age and implantation age were significantly negatively correlated with the overall production accuracy, p < 0.05. For the error patterns, bimodal participants experienced more errors when T2 was in the first position of the tone combination, and T2 was most likely to be mispronounced as T1 and T3. Bimodal patients aged 3-5 have T2-related disyllabic lexical tone production defects, and their performances are related to tone combination, implantation age, and bimodal age.
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This paper analyzes verb reduplication in Mandarin Chinese under a lexicalist framework. By adopting the Lexicalist Hypothesis proposed by Chomsky (1970), a distinction has been made between syntactic and morphological verb reduplications by means of five tests: productivity, le insertion, categorial stability, transitivity, and input/output constraints. It is found that the AA and ABAB patterns of verb reduplication have relatively high productivity and regular syntactic behaviors, whereas the AABB pattern of verb reduplication shows extremely low productivity and syntactic idiosyncrasy. Given these observations, this paper proposes that the AA and ABAB patterns should be syntactic verb reduplications derived at the syntactic level, whereas the AABB pattern should be morphological verb reduplication formed in the lexicon. The two types of verb reduplications have different generative mechanisms.
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Phonological alternation (sound change depending on the phonological environment) poses challenges to spoken word recognition models. Mandarin Chinese T3 sandhi is such a phenomenon in which a tone 3 (T3) changes into a tone 2 (T2) when followed by another T3. In a mismatch negativity (MMN) study examining Mandarin Chinese T3 sandhi, participants passively listened to either a T2 word [tʂu2 je4] /tʂu2 je4/, a T3 word [tʂu3 je4] /tʂu3 je4/, a sandhi word [tʂu2 jen3] /tʂu3 jen3/, or a mix of T3 and sandhi word standards. The deviant in each condition was a T2 word [tʂu2]. Results showed an MMN only in the T2 and T3 conditions but not in the Sandhi or Mix conditions. All conditions also yielded omission MMNs. This pattern cannot be explained based on the surface forms of standards and deviants; rather these data suggest an underspecified or underlying T3 stored linguistic representation used in spoken word processing.
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Mandarin verbal reduplication is generally regarded as a phenomenon conveying an aspectual value since it temporally bounds the event expressed by the base verb, thus resulting in a (counter-iconic) 'diminishing' semantics. In this paper, we put forward a novel syntactic account of diminishing reduplica-tion in Mandarin, which derives the aspectual semantic properties of these constructs from the syntax of their event structure. In particular, we outline an analysis of reduplication as the spell out of two copies of the same lexical item, whereby the reduplicant is the lower copy sitting as the complement of the verbal head (higher copy), and displaying the distributional and inter-pretive properties of 'weak' verbal classifiers. Focusing on the status of the reduplicant, we present distributional, interpretive and diachronic evidence in support of our analysis. *
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T3 sandhi in Mandarin is a phonological alternation where two adjacent T3-T3 tones are not allowed and become T[2]-T3. Although this phenomenon has been extensively studied in previous work, concerns about how T3 sandhi is represented in the mental lexicon remain controversial. We approached the issue of representation in a series of cross-modal priming experiments, including two semantic priming experiments with and without context. Our results indicated that T2 failed to prime a target beginning with T3 in a non-sandhi context. However, both T2 and T3 were able to induce semantic activation when appropriate contextual information was present. Conversely, when such information was absent, only T3 activated the lexical entry. Thus, our study suggests that T3 is specified, as expected for dissimilation, and T2 is resolved by a re-writing rule only under appropriate contextual information.
This paper describes the morphological and phonological properties of three types of reduplication in Standard Chinese, including diminutive, intensifying and delimitative reduplication. It shows that the three types of reduplication exhibit distinct morphological and tonal patterns. In order to account for the distributional and semantic constraints on reduplication, the paper adopts the syntactic analyses proposed by Zhang (2015) for intensifying reduplication and by Arcodia et al. (2014) and Basciano and Melloni (2017) for delimitative reduplication to represent the reduplicant and the base in different syntactic positions. In addition, it argues that extrasyntactic operations are necessary in order to explain the distinct tonal patterns in reduplication. In particular, diminutive reduplication is derivational affixation, intensifying reduplication is compounding, and delimitative reduplication is inflectional affixation. Affixation triggers tone deletion in the reduplicant. Meanwhile, the morphosyntactic processes are subject to phonological constraints. This paper also distinguishes between reduplication and repetition.