Lexical tone perception in native speakers of Cantonese.

International journal of speech-language pathology

PubMedID: 24780063

Lee KY, Chan KT, Lam JH, Van Hasselt CA, Tong MC. Lexical tone perception in native speakers of Cantonese. Int J Speech Lang Pathol. 2014;.
This study aimed at investigating (1) tone perception development among typically-developing Cantonese speakers and (2) the hierarchy of tone perception difficulty among the 15 tone contrasts. Two-hundred typically-developing children aged 3-10 and a group of 25 normal hearing adults were recruited. They were tested on a pool of 75-item calibrated recorded speech signals. Participants responded to each stimulus by pointing at the corresponding picture displayed on a computer screen from a choice of four. There was a gradual increase in tone perception accuracy from children aged 3-6. After age 6, tone perception accuracy was similar to adults with an average error rate of 3-8%. The two tone contrasts that listeners consistently found difficult to distinguish were T2T5 (high-rising vs low-rising) and T3T6 (mid-level vs low-level). In addition, all children groups also showed difficulty in T4T6 identification (low-falling vs low-level). Tone perception is not error-free even among native Cantonese-speaking adults. Overall tone identification performance improved steadily from age 3 to age 6. Based on the participants' performance, a three-tier set of tone groups, with an increasing level of difficulty for identification, is proposed for rehabilitation purposes. These tone groups are (1) Easy: T1T2, T1T3, T1T4, T1T5, T1T6, and T2T3, (2) Medium: T2T4, T2T6, T3T4, and T4T5, and (3) Hard: T2T5, T3T5, T3T6, T4T6, and T5T6.