Perception of Intonation in Mandarin Chinese

J Acoust Soc Am. 2011 Dec;130(6):4063-9. doi: 10.1121/1.3651818.


There is a tendency across languages to use a rising pitch contour to convey question intonation and a falling pitch contour to convey a statement. In a lexical tone language such as Mandarin Chinese, rising and falling pitch contours are also used to differentiate lexical meaning. How, then, does the multiplexing of the F(0) channel affect the perception of question and statement intonation in a lexical tone language? This study investigated the effects of lexical tones and focus on the perception of intonation in Mandarin Chinese. The results show that lexical tones and focus impact the perception of sentence intonation. Question intonation was easier for native speakers to identify on a sentence with a final falling tone and more difficult to identify on a sentence with a final rising tone, suggesting that tone identification intervenes in the mapping of F(0) contours to intonational categories and that tone and intonation interact at the phonological level. In contrast, there is no evidence that the interaction between focus and intonation goes beyond the psychoacoustic level. The results provide insights that will be useful for further research on tone and intonation interactions in both acoustic modeling studies and neurobiological studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Phonetics*
  • Pitch Discrimination / physiology*
  • Speech / physiology*