Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 65, Issue 7, pp 1029–1044 | Cite as

On the (non)categorical perception of lexical tones

  • Alexander L. Francis
  • Valter Ciocca
  • Brenda Kei Chit Ng


Identification and discrimination of lexical tones in Cantonese were compared in the context of a traditional categorical perception paradigm. Three lexical tone continua were used: one ranging from low level to high level, one from high rising to high level, and one from low falling to high rising. Identification data showed steep slopes at category boundaries, suggesting that lexical tones are perceived categorically. In contrast, discrimination curves generally showed much weaker evidence for categorical perception. Subsequent investigation showed that the presence of a tonal context played a strong role in the identification of target tones and less of a role in discrimination. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that tonal category boundaries are determined by a combination of regions of natural auditory sensitivity and the influence of linguistic experience.


Discrimination Task Categorical Perception Sentence Context Category Boundary Level Tone 
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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander L. Francis
    • 2
  • Valter Ciocca
    • 1
  • Brenda Kei Chit Ng
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Hong KongHong Kong
  2. 2.Audiology and Speech SciencesPurdue UniversityWest Lafayette

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