Toward an understanding of heritage prosody: Acoustic and perceptual properties of tone produced by heritage, native, and second language speakers of Mandarin
Chang, Charles B.
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CitationCharles B Chang, Yao Yao. 2016. "Toward an understanding of heritage prosody: Acoustic and perceptual properties of tone produced by heritage, native, and second language speakers of Mandarin." Heritage Language Journal, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp. 134 - 160.
In previous work examining heritage language phonology, heritage speakers have often patterned differently from native speakers and late-onset second language (L2) learners with respect to overall accent and segmentals. The current study extended this line of inquiry to suprasegmentals, comparing the properties of lexical tones produced by heritage, native, and L2 speakers of Mandarin living in the U.S. We hypothesized that heritage speakers would approximate native norms for Mandarin tones more closely than L2 speakers, yet diverge from these norms in one or more ways. We further hypothesized that, due to their unique linguistic experience, heritage speakers would sound the most ambiguous in terms of demographic background. Acoustic data showed that heritage speakers approximated native-like production more closely than L2 speakers with respect to the pitch contour of Tone 3, durational shortening in connected speech, and rates of Tone 3 reduction in non-phrase-final contexts, while showing the highest levels of tonal variability among all groups. Perceptual data indicated that heritage speakers’ tones differed from native and L2 speakers’ in terms of both intelligibility and perceived goodness. Consistent with the variability results, heritage speakers were the most difficult group to classify demographically. Taken together, these findings suggest that, with respect to tone, early heritage language experience can, but does not necessarily, result in a phonological advantage over L2 learners. Further, they add support to the view that heritage speakers are language users distinct from both native and L2 speakers.