Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
Zoek in de site...

Thesis defense Carmen Kung (Donders series 320)

30 October 2018
Promotor: prof. dr. H. Schriefers
Co-promotor: dr. D. Chwilla

Speech Comprehension in a Tone Language:
The Role of Lexical Tone, Context, and Intonation in Cantonese-Chinese

Lexical tone plays a crucial role in discerning literal-lexical meaning for tonal languages, and for some tonal languages tone also plays a role for pragmatic meaning. However, there are linguistic factors beyond lexical tone that contribute to the understanding of lexical meaning and pragmatic meaning. During connected speech, information regarding these various linguistic factors are available simultaneously. A key question is how listeners integrate these different types of information to arrive at an understanding of literal and pragmatic meaning interpretation. The main goal of the present dissertation was to shed light on how lexical tone, in connection with two other linguistic factors—context and intonation—influences the comprehension of literal-lexical and pragmatic meaning in Cantonese Chinese.

For the interpretation of lexical meaning in Cantonese, tonal, intonational, and contextual information interacts immediately during on-line speech processing: When tone and intonation yield conflicting F0 information, this yields a processing conflict during on-line spoken word recognition, and can lead to an eventual lexical misidentification. Context contributes to a resolution of this conflict, but it does not take away completely the potential processing difficulties arising from a mismatch between tonal and intonational information.

Contextual, intonational, and tonal information is also heavily involved in the interpretation of pragmatic meaning in Cantonese, in the form of sentence-final particles (SFPs). A change in lexical tone can alter the pragmatic meaning conveyed by a SFP. While discourse context and intonation can affect the comprehension of a SFP, context dominates over intonation in the comprehension of a SFP, and context is shown to be immediately integrated during the on-line pragmatic processing of the SFPs.

Taken together, the findings reveal an immediate interaction between the processing of lexical tone, intonation and context. Importantly, these two types of context appear to be the dominating factor in the comprehension of lexical and pragmatic meaning. In addition, the empirical chapters provide experimental paradigms that can be used, in future research, as tools for investigations of speech comprehension in other tone languages.