Article

Categorical Perception of Chinese Lexical Tones by Late Second Language Learners With High Proficiency: Behavioral and Electrophysiological Measures

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Abstract

Purpose Although acquisition of Chinese lexical tones by second language (L2) learners has been intensively investigated, very few studies focused on categorical perception (CP) of lexical tones by highly proficient L2 learners. This study was designed to address this issue with behavioral and electrophysiological measures. Method Behavioral identification and auditory event-related potential (ERP) components for speech discrimination, including mismatch negativity (MMN), N2b, and P3b, were measured in 23 native Korean speakers who were highly proficient late L2 learners of Chinese. For the ERP measures, both passive and active listening tasks were administered to examine the automatic and attention-controlled discriminative responses to within- and across-category differences for carefully chosen stimuli from a lexical tone continuum. Results The behavioral task revealed native-like identification function of the tonal continuum. Correspondingly, the active oddball task demonstrated larger P3b amplitudes for the across-category than within-category deviants in the left recording site, indicating clear CP of lexical tones in the attentive condition. By contrast, similar MMN responses in the right recording site were elicited by both the across- and within-category deviants, indicating the absence of CP effect with automatic phonological processing of lexical tones at the pre-attentive stage even in L2 learners with high Chinese proficiency. Conclusion Although behavioral data showed clear evidence of categorical perception of lexical tones in proficient L2 learners, ERP measures from passive and active listening tasks demonstrated fine-grained sensitivity in terms of response polarity, latency, and laterality in revealing different aspects of auditory versus linguistic processing associated with speech decoding by means of largely implicit native language acquisition versus effortful explicit L2 learning.

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... Here, one should distinguish speech categorization from categorical perception. The latter concept suggests that the stimuli from different categories can be identified and discriminated, but the same process of differentiation cannot be applied to stimuli from the same category(Xi et al., 2021). ...
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Differences in hemispheric predominance between across- and within-category change perception of vowels were assessed using a whole-head magnetoencephalography. The magnetic mismatch responses (MMNm) to pure-tone and vowel within-category changes were significantly predominant in the right hemisphere; on the other hand, vowel across-category MMNm did not differ in power between hemispheres. The results suggest that both hemispheres are symmetrically activated in the preattentive across-category change perception of vowels, while the within-category change of a vowel is analyzed as the change in physical features of the stimuli, thus predominantly activating the right hemisphere. Thus, the relative contribution of the left auditory cortex in the preattentive speech processing may occur only at the level of perception of the vowel across-category change.
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A series of thirteen two-formant vowels was synthesized and used as the basis of labelling and discrimination tests with a group of English-speaking listeners. The sounds varied only in F1/F2 plot and the resulting vowel qualities were such that listeners found no difficulty in assigning each sound to one of three phonemic categories, those of the vowels in bid, bed and bad. The results of the tests were compared with those previously obtained in experiments involving the consonant phonemes /b, d, g/. It appears from the data that the phoneme boundaries in the case of the three vowel phonemes are less sharply defined than in the case of the stop consonants. The labelling functions for the vowels show a gradual slope and the discrimination functions do not show any marked increase in sensitivity to change in the region of the phoneme boundaries. It is clear also that the listeners were able to discriminate differences very much smaller than would need to be distinguished simply in order to place vowels in the appropriate category. The results show further that the effect of sequence or acoustic context in the perception of vowels is very considerable. In all the aspects examined in these experiments, the perception of synthetic vowels is found to be different from that of synthetic stop consonants. These differences lend some support to the hypothesis that the degree of articulatory discontinuity between sounds may be correlated with the sharpness of the phonemic boundaries that separate them.
Article
This study investigated the functional significance of the N2 response to novel stimuli. In one condition, background, target, and deviant stimuli were simple geometric figures. In a second condition, all stimulus types were unfamiliar/unusual figures. In a third condition, background and target stimuli were unusual figures and deviant stimuli were simple shapes. Unusual figures, whether they were deviant, target, or background stimuli, evoked larger N2 responses than their simple, familiar counterparts. N2 elicited by an unusual background stimulus was larger than that evoked by simple, deviant stimuli, a pattern opposite that exhibited by the subsequent P3. Deviance from immediate context had limited influence over N2 amplitude. The results suggest that novelty N2 and novelty P3 reflect the processing of different aspects of “novel” visual stimuli. The novelty P3 is particularly sensitive to deviation from immediate context. In contrast, the novelty N2 is sensitive to deviation from long-term context that renders a stimulus unfamiliar and difficult to encode.
Article
Over half the world's population speaks a tone language, yet infant speech perception research has typically focused on consonants and vowels. Very young infants can discriminate a wide range of native and nonnative consonants and vowels, and then in a process of perceptual reorganization over the 1st year, discrimination of most nonnative speech sounds deteriorates. We investigated perceptual reorganization for tones by testing 6- and 9-month-old infants from tone (Chinese) and nontone (English) language environments for speech (lexical tone) and nonspeech (violin sound) tone discrimination in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. Overall, Chinese infants performed equally well at 6 and 9 months for both speech and nonspeech tone discrimination. Conversely, English infants' discrimination of lexical tone declined between 6 and 9 months of age, whereas their nonspeech tone discrimination remained constant. These results indicate that the reorganization of tone perception is a function of the native language environment, and that this reorganization is linguistically based.Supplementary materials to this article are available on the World Wide Web at http:www.infancyarchives.com
Until recently, research in speech perception and speech production has largely focused on the search for psychological and phonetic evidence of discrete, abstract, context-free symbolic units corresponding to phonological segments or phonemes. Despite this common conceptual goal and intimately related objects of study, however, research in these two domains of speech communication has progressed more or less independently for more than 60 years. In this article, we present an overview of the foundational works and current trends in the two fields, specifically discussing the progress made in both lines of inquiry as well as the basic fundamental issues that neither has been able to resolve satisfactorily so far. We then discuss theoretical models and recent experimental evidence that point to the deep, pervasive connections between speech perception and production. We conclude that although research focusing on each domain individually has been vital in increasing our basic understanding of spoken language processing, the human capacity for speech communication is so complex that gaining a full understanding will not be possible until speech perception and production are conceptually reunited in a joint approach to problems shared by both modes. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website
Article
While previous studies have shown that children affected by dyslexia exhibit a deficit in categorical perception of segmental features in alphabetic languages, it remains unclear whether the categorical perception deficit generalizes to nonalphabetic languages at the suprasegmental level. In this study, we investigated the occurrence of categorical perception deficit in Mandarin lexical tones in Chinese children with dyslexia. Both behavioral and electrophysiological measures were taken to compare Chinese dyslexic children with age-matched controls. Auditory event-related potentials were collected with a passive listening oddball paradigm. Behavioral data showed that dyslexic children perceived lexical tone contrasts less categorically and less precisely than age-matched controls. Consistent with the behavioral data, the across-category tone contrast elicited larger mismatch negativity than the within-category distinction in the left hemisphere for the age-matched controls but not for the dyslexic children. The behavioral and electrophysiological results demonstrate impaired categorical perception of lexical tones in Chinese children with dyslexia. Our findings support the hypothesis that children affected by dyslexia have a general deficit in categorical perception of speech, which generalizes to nonalphabetic languages at the suprasegmental level.
Article
Phonology is bimodular: prosody (relational aspects) and melody (‘phonetic’ aspects) are to some extent autonomous in steady-state (adult) language. Therefore the acquisition of individual melodic and prosodic modules and their subsequent orientation with respect to one another must constitute three different developmental tasks. The acquisition of melodic primes may take place independently of any other process. If infant perception has this kind of phonological import, then disparate phonetic reflexes which are predicted as phonologically identical might show parallels in acquisition.In Government Phonology, general theory argues that the same abstract melodic objects underlie both laryngeal contrasts in stops and lexical tonal contrasts. Earlier studies show that language-specific attunement to stop contrasts has taken place by the age of six to eight months. Tests on lexical tone perception are now reported, using both adults and infants. The results show that at around six months of age, babies acquiring Yorùbá, a language which has a three-way contrast for tone, attend more closely to pitch changes within the minimal domain word than do English controls. Further, they only attend to those pitch changes that possess phonological import within that domain in the steady-state language. In this their perception exactly parallels that displayed by the adult speakers. Finally, both adults and infants display a particular asymmetry in perception in that they discriminate the high/mid tone distinction but fail to perceive the mid/low contrast where no linguistic context is present. This was not predicted at the onset of testing, but it is argued that it may well have a phonological explanation, which could align this finding with the typological asymmetries to be found in the distribution of lexical tone in Yorùbá and other west African languages.
Article
Previous electrophysiological evidence supports categorical perception of Chinese lexical tones at the preattentive stage (Xi and colleagues). In this study, we examined participants' attentive responses to tonal continua in an event-related potential experiment that recorded their N2b and P3b oddball responses. We found that for both the N2b and the P3b component, the responses elicited by the within-category deviants were similar in the left and the right recording sites. However, the across-category deviants elicited larger responses in the left recording sites than in the right sites, reflecting conscious phonological processing of lexical tones. These results provide electrophysiological correlates of categorical perception of Chinese lexical tones in later stages associated with controlled processes.
Article
Previous research on categorical perception of pitch contours has mainly considered the contrast between tone language and non-tone language listeners. This study investigates not only the influence of tone language vs. non-tone language experience (German vs. Chinese), but also the influence of different tone inventories (Mandarin tones vs. Cantonese tones), on the categorical perception of pitch contours. The results show that the positions of the identification boundaries do not differ significantly across the 3 groups of listeners, i.e., Mandarin, Cantonese, and German, but that the boundary widths do differ significantly between tone language (Mandarin and Cantonese) listeners and non-tone language (German) listeners, with broader boundary widths for non-tone language listeners. In the discrimination tasks, the German listeners exhibit only psychophysical boundaries, whereas Chinese listeners exhibit linguistic boundaries, and these linguistic boundaries are further shaped by the different tone inventories.
Article
This study examined the role of automatic selective perceptual processes in native and non-native listeners' perception of a Japanese vowel length contrast (tado vs. taado), using multiple, natural-speech tokens of each category as stimuli in a "categorial oddball" design. Mismatch negativity (MMN) was used to index discrimination of the temporally-cued vowel contrast by naïve adult American listeners and by a native Japanese-speaking control group in two experiments in which attention to the auditory input was manipulated: in Exp 1 (Visual-Attend), listeners silently counted deviants in a simultaneously-presented visual categorial oddball shape discrimination task; in Exp 2 (Auditory-Attend), listeners attended to the auditory input and implicitly counted target deviants. MMN results showed effects of language experience and attentional focus: MMN amplitudes were smaller for American compared to Japanese listeners in the Visual-Attend Condition and for the American listeners in the Visual compared to Auditory-Attend Condition. Subtle differences in topography were also seen, specifically in that the Japanese group showed more robust responses than the American listeners at left hemisphere scalp sites that probably index activity from the superior temporal gyrus. Follow-up behavioral discrimination tests showed that Americans discriminated the contrast well above chance, but more poorly than did Japanese listeners. This pattern of electrophysiological and behavioral results supports the conclusion that early experience with phonetic contrasts of a language results in changes in neural representations in the auditory cortex that allow for more robust automatic, phonetic processing of native-language speech input.
Article
The present study investigated the neurophysiological correlates of categorical perception of Chinese lexical tones in Mandarin Chinese. Relative to standard stimuli, both within- and across-category deviants elicited mismatch negativity (MMN) in bilateral frontal-central recording sites. The MMN elicited in the right sites was marginally larger than in the left sites, which reflects the role of the right hemisphere in acoustic processing. At the same time, relative to within-category deviants, the across-category deviants elicited larger MMN in the left recording sites, reflecting the long-term phonemic traces of lexical tones. These results provide strong neurophysiological evidence in support of categorical perception of lexical tones in Chinese. More important, they demonstrate that acoustic and phonological information is processed in parallel within the MMN time window for the perception of lexical tones. Finally, homologous nonspeech stimuli elicited similar MMN patterns, indicating that lexical tone knowledge influences the perception of nonspeech signals.
Article
Human fetuses are able to memorize auditory stimuli from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language. Newborns prefer their mother's voice over other voices and perceive the emotional content of messages conveyed via intonation contours in maternal speech ("motherese"). Their perceptual preference for the surrounding language and their ability to distinguish between prosodically different languages and pitch changes are based on prosodic information, primarily melody. Adult-like processing of pitch intervals allows newborns to appreciate musical melodies and emotional and linguistic prosody. Although prenatal exposure to native-language prosody influences newborns' perception, the surrounding language affects sound production apparently much later. Here, we analyzed the crying patterns of 30 French and 30 German newborns with respect to their melody and intensity contours. The French group preferentially produced cries with a rising melody contour, whereas the German group preferentially produced falling contours. The data show an influence of the surrounding speech prosody on newborns' cry melody, possibly via vocal learning based on biological predispositions.
Article
The need for a simply applied quantitative assessment of handedness is discussed and some previous forms reviewed. An inventory of 20 items with a set of instructions and response- and computational-conventions is proposed and the results obtained from a young adult population numbering some 1100 individuals are reported. The separate items are examined from the point of view of sex, cultural and socio-economic factors which might appertain to them and also of their inter-relationship to each other and to the measure computed from them all. Criteria derived from these considerations are then applied to eliminate 10 of the original 20 items and the results recomputed to provide frequency-distribution and cumulative frequency functions and a revised item-analysis. The difference of incidence of handedness between the sexes is discussed.
Article
To determine whether there are physiological correlates of categorical perception. Human evoked potentials were recorded in response to computer-modified speech sounds from a nine-stimulus continuum between /ba/ and /da/. In the first experiment, subjects listened to trains composed of 52% /ba/ or /da/ and 6% of each of the other eight stimuli and classified the stimuli as "ba" or "da." In the second experiment, subjects read a book and ignored trains containing a standard stimulus (p = 80%) and two deviant speech sounds (p = 10% each), one within the same category as the standard and the other across the category-boundary. The third experiment was similar to the first except that the subject was reading. The fourth experiment compared the responses to stimuli that deviated from standards in terms of their phonemic category or intensity. An N2-P3 complex was evoked by those stimuli in the more improbable category when the stimuli were attended to in the first experiment. In the second and third experiments, there was a clear mismatch negativity (MMN) for the across-category deviant stimuli when the standard stimulus came from the /ba/ end of the continuum. However, when the standard stimulus came from the /da/ end of the continuum, there was no definite MMN. The overall frequency-content of our /da/ stimulus was broader than that of the /ba/ stimulus. A deviant stimulus from the /da/ end of the continuum thus contained frequencies which were not present in the /ba/-standard stimuli and these frequencies could elicit a MMN. In the fourth experiment the MMN evoked by a small change in intensity was much larger than that evoked by a change in phonemic category. The N2-P3 complex accurately reflects the phonemic categorization of speech stimuli. The MMN evoked by changes in speech sounds may indicate the detection of acoustic rather than phonetic changes.
Article
Lack of exposure to specific sensory patterns during critical periods of development can result in a lack of responsiveness to those stimuli in adulthood. The present study extends these observations to native speakers of Japanese, a language which does not contain the contrastive /r/ and /l/ sounds present in English. Both electrophysiological (P3 event-related evoked potential) and behavioral results indicate deficient or absent discrimination of /r/ versus /l/ sounds in Japanese adults compared to native speakers of English. Thus, language structure appears to provide a subtle yet measurable effect on specific aspects of brain development and function.
Article
P300 event-related potentials (ERPs) from 1-, 2-, and 3-tone oddball paradigms were elicited and compared from the same subjects. In the 1-tone paradigm, only a target tone was presented, with the standard tone replaced by silence. The 2-tone paradigm was a typical oddball task, wherein the target and standard tones were presented every 2.0 s in a random order with a target-tone probability of 0.10. In the 3-tone paradigm, in addition to the infrequent target (p = 0.10) and the frequent standard (p = 0.80), infrequent nontarget tones (p = 0.10) also were presented. The subject responded with a button press only to the target stimulus in each task. The target stimulus in each paradigm elicited a P300 component with a parietal maximum distribution. No P300 amplitude differences were found among paradigms, although peak latency from the 1-tone paradigm was shorter than those from the other two tasks. Both P300 peak amplitude and latency demonstrated strong positive correlations between each pair of paradigms. The results suggest that P300 was produced by the same neural and cognitive mechanisms across tasks. The possible utility of each paradigm in clinical testing is discussed.
Article
Event-related potentials, recorded through a 128-electrode net, were used to study phonemic processing in the human auditory system. Within a stream of identical syllables, acoustic deviants were introduced that either crossed a phonetic boundary or remained within the same category. Two phonetic boundaries were explored, one present and the other absent in the subjects' native language. A large mismatch negativity was induced by native phonetic deviants, but not by non-native or within-category deviants. We suggest that a language-specific phonemic code has a separate neural representation in sensory memory and can serve as the basis for auditory mismatch detection. The subjects' inability to discriminate non-native phonetic contrasts does not seem related to a late attentional filter, but rather to a genuine loss of auditory discrimination abilities.
Article
Target/standard discrimination difficulty was manipulated systematically to assess how this variable affects target and nontarget P300 scalp distributions for both auditory and visual stimuli. A 3-stimulus paradigm (target, standard, nontarget) was employed in which subjects (n = 16) responded only to an infrequently occurring target stimulus. The perceptual discrimination difficulty between the target and more frequently occurring standard stimuli was varied as Easy or Difficult in different conditions, while holding the nontarget stimulus properties constant. When target/standard discrimination was Easy, P300 amplitude was larger for the target than the nontarget across all electrode sites, and both demonstrated parietal maximums. In contrast, when target/standard discrimination was Difficult, target amplitude (P3b) was larger parietally and occurred later than nontarget components, whereas nontarget amplitude (P3a) was larger and earlier than the target P300 over the frontal electrode sites. Similar outcomes across task conditions were obtained for both auditory and visual stimuli. The findings suggest that target/standard discrimination difficulty, rather than stimulus novelty, determines P3a generation for both auditory and visual stimulus modalities.
Article
Adult native Japanese speakers have difficulty perceiving the English /r-l/ phonetic contrast even after years of exposure. However, after extensive perceptual identification training, long-lasting improvement in identification performance can be attained. This fMRI study investigates localized changes in brain activity associated with 1 month of extensive feedback-based perceptual identification training by native Japanese speakers learning the English /r-l/ phonetic contrast. Before and after training, separate functional brain imaging sessions were conducted for identification of the English /r-l/ contrast (difficult for Japanese speakers), /b-g/ contrast (easy), and /b-v/ contrast (difficult), in which signal-correlated noise served as the reference control condition. Neural plasticity, denoted by exclusive enhancement in brain activity for the /r-l/ contrast, does not involve only reorganization in brain regions concerned with acoustic-phonetic processing (superior and medial temporal areas) but also the recruitment of additional bilateral cortical (supramarginal gyrus, planum temporale, Broca's area, premotor cortex, supplementary motor area) and subcortical regions (cerebellum, basal ganglia, substantia nigra) involved with auditory-articulatory (perceptual-motor) mappings related to verbal speech processing and learning. Contrary to what one may expect, brain activity for perception of a difficult contrast does not come to resemble that of an easy contrast as learning proceeds. Rather, the results support the hypothesis that improved identification performance may be due to the acquisition of auditory-articulatory mappings allowing for perception to be made in reference to potential action.
Article
Discrimination was found to be better across a phoneme boundary than in the middle of a phoneme category. The perception of these stimuli is essentially categorical in that S can hear no differences among the stimuli beyond those that are revealed by the phoneme labels he applies to them. It is concluded that the sharpening of discrimination at the phoneme boundary is an effect of learning and that it represents a considerable amount of acquired distinctiveness. From Psyc Abstracts 36:02:2BO79L.
Article
Changes in the temporal properties of the speech signal provide important cues for phoneme identification. An impairment or inability to detect such changes may adversely affect one's ability to understand spoken speech. The difference in meaning between the Finnish words tuli (fire) and tuuli (wind), for example, lies in the difference between the duration of the vowel /u/. Detecting changes in the temporal properties of the speech signal, therefore, is critical for distinguishing between phonemes and identifying words. In the current study, we tested whether detection of changes in speech sounds, in native Finnish speakers, would vary as a function of the position within the word that the informational changes occurred (beginning, middle, or end) by evaluating how length contrasts in segments of three-syllable Finnish pseudo-words and their acoustic correlates were discriminated. We recorded a combination of cortical components of event-related brain potentials (MMN, N2b, P3b) along with behavioral measures of the perception of the same sounds. It was found that speech sounds were not processed differently than non-speech sounds in the early stages of auditory processing indexed by MMN. Differences occurred only in later stages associated with controlled processes. The effects of position and attention on speech and non-speech stimuli are discussed.
Article
This experiment investigates neural processes underlying perceptual identification of the same phonemes for native- and second-language speakers. A model is proposed implicating the use of articulatory-auditory and articulatory-orosensory mappings to facilitate perceptual identification under conditions in which the phonetic contrast is ambiguous, as in the case of second-language speakers. In contrast, native-language speakers are predicted to use auditory-based phonetic representations to a greater extent for perceptual identification than second-language speakers. The English /r-l/ phonetic contrast, although easy for native English speakers, is extremely difficult for native Japanese speakers who learned English as a second language after childhood. Twenty-two native English and twenty-two native Japanese speakers participated in this study. While undergoing event-related fMRI, subjects were aurally presented with syllables starting with a /r/, /l/, or a vowel and were required to rapidly identify the phoneme perceived by pushing one of three buttons with the left thumb. Consistent with the proposed model, the results show greater activity for second- over native-language speakers during perceptual identification of /r/ and /l/ relative to vowels in brain regions implicated with instantiating forward and inverse articulatory-auditory articulatory-orosensory models [Broca's area, anterior insula, anterior superior temporal sulcus/gyrus (STS/G), planum temporale (PT), superior temporal parietal area (Stp), SMG, and cerebellum]. The results further show that activity in brain regions implicated with instantiating these internal models is correlated with better /r/ and /l/ identification performance for second-language speakers. Greater activity found for native-language speakers especially in the anterior STG/S for /r/ and /l/ perceptual identification is consistent with the hypothesis that native-language speakers use auditory phonetic representations more extensively than second-language speakers.