The perception of intonation questions and statements in Cantonese

J Acoust Soc Am. 2011 Feb;129(2):1012-23. doi: 10.1121/1.3531840.


In tone languages there are potential conflicts in the perception of lexical tone and intonation, as both depend mainly on the differences in fundamental frequency (F0) patterns. The present study investigated the acoustic cues associated with the perception of sentences as questions or statements in Cantonese, as a function of the lexical tone in sentence final position. Cantonese listeners performed intonation identification tasks involving complete sentences, isolated final syllables, and sentences without the final syllable (carriers). Sensitivity (d' scores) were similar for complete sentences and final syllables but were significantly lower for carriers. Sensitivity was also affected by tone identity. These findings show that the perception of questions and statements relies primarily on the F0 characteristics of the final syllables (local F0 cues). A measure of response bias (c) provided evidence for a general bias toward the perception of statements. Logistic regression analyses showed that utterances were accurately classified as questions or statements by using average F0 and F0 interval. Average F0 of carriers (global F0 cue) was also found to be a reliable secondary cue. These findings suggest that the use of F0 cues for the perception of intonation question in tonal languages is likely to be language-specific.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone
  • Audiometry, Speech
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Bias
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Logistic Models
  • Phonetics*
  • Pitch Discrimination*
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Speech Acoustics*
  • Speech Perception*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult