PhD in SLS Dissertation Defense on Tuesday, April 13 at 8:00 am HSTWenyi Ling

Wenyi Ling will be defending her dissertation on Tuesday, April 13 at 8:00 am HST over Zoom.

Zoom meeting link: (no registration required)

Title: The perception, processing, and learning of Mandarin lexical tone by second language speakers

Abstract: This dissertation investigates how English-speaking second language (L2) learners of Mandarin perceive, process and learn Mandarin lexical tones. While most languages use modulations in pitch (intonation) to convey meanings at the phrasal and sentential levels, a number of languages, including Mandarin, also use suprasegmental features such as pitch to encode meaning at a lexical level (lexical tone). A key challenge for speakers of a non-tonal language learning Mandarin is to acquire this new function of pitch. This includes learning to perceive tonal categories in continuous and variable acoustic input, building this information into their lexical representations, and accessing the information during real-time processing. Given the complexity of this task, it is not surprising that lexical tone has been identified as one of the most difficult domains for L2 learners to master. The precise source of this difficulty, however, is still not well understood. The goal of this dissertation is to investigate L2 learners’ processing and use of tone at multiple levels, including speech perception, lexical processing, and word learning, in order to gain a broader understanding of the challenges in the L2 acquisition of Mandarin tone by native speakers of English. To this end, this dissertation draws on theoretical models and methodological paradigms from research in speech perception and psycholinguistics that has investigated the perception and processing of tone by native speakers, and extends these paradigms to investigate the acquisition and use of tone by L2 learners.