Document Type

Journal Article

Department/Unit

Department of English Language and Literature

Language

English

Abstract

Mandarin Chinese has dental, palatal, and retroflex sibilants, but their contrasts before [_i] are avoided: The palatals appear before [i] while the dentals and retroflexes appear before homorganic syllabic approximants (a.k.a. apical vowels). An enhancement view regards the apical vowels as a way to avoid the weak contrast /si-ɕi-ȿi/. We focus on the dental vs. palatal contrast in this study and test the enhancement-based hypothesis that the dental and palatal sibilants are perceptually less distinct in the [_i] context than in other vowel contexts. This hypothesis is supported by a typological survey of 155 Chinese dialects, which showed that contrastive [si, tsi, tsʰi] and [ɕi, tɕi, tɕʰi] tend to be avoided even when there are no retroflexes in the sound system. We also conducted a speeded-AX discrimination experiment with 20 English listeners and 10 Chinese listeners to examine the effect of vowels ([_i], [_a], [_ou]) on the perceived distinctiveness of sibilant contrasts ([s-ɕ], [ts-tɕ], [tsʰ-tɕʰ]). The results showed that the [_i] context introduced a longer response time, thus reduced distinctiveness, than other vowels, confirming our hypothesis. Moreover, the general lack of difference between the two groups of listeners indicates that the vowel effect is language-independent.

Keywords

perceptual distinctiveness, sibilant contrast, vowel context, Chinese, speeded-AX discrimination

Publication Date

2017

Source Publication Title

Laboratory Phonology: Journal of the Association for Laboratory Phonology

Volume

8

Issue

1

Start Page

1

End Page

27

Publisher

Ubiquity Press

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.

DOI

10.5334/labphon.27

Link to Publisher's Edition

https://doi.org/10.5334/labphon.27

ISSN (print)

18686346

ISSN (electronic)

18686354

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