Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 527–542 | Cite as

Tone perception in Cantonese and Mandarin: A cross-linguistic comparison

  • Yuh-Shiow Lee
  • Douglas A. Vakoch
  • Lee H. Wurm


This study investigated the effects of linguistic experience on tone perception. Both Cantonese (in Experiment 1) and Mandarin (in Experiment 2) tones, including both lexical and nonlexical tones, were presented to three groups of subjects: Cantonese, Mandarin, and English native speakers. Subjects were asked to determine whether two auditorily presented tones were the same or different. The interval between the presentation of the two tones, and the level of interference during this interval, were manipulated. Native speakers did better at discriminating tones from their own languages than the other two groups of subjects, for both lexical and nonlexical tones. Subjects did worst when they were required to count backward during the interstimulus interval. Cantonese speakers were better than both Mandarin and English speakers at discriminating Cantonese tones, and there was no difference between Mandarin and English speakers, except in one condition. Mandarin speakers did better than both Cantonese and English speakers, and Cantonese speakers did better than English speakers, at discriminating Mandarin tones. Results are discussed in terms of the effects of language background, differences between Cantonese and Mandarin tones, and the nature of encoding in short-term memory.


Cognitive Psychology English Speaker Native Speaker Interstimulus Interval English Native Speaker 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yuh-Shiow Lee
    • 1
  • Douglas A. Vakoch
    • 2
  • Lee H. Wurm
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyChinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyState University of New York at Stony BrookStony Brook

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