Mandarin is one of the most representative tonal languages in the world with four tone categories (Tone 1 (T1): high level (ā); Tone 2 (T2): high rising (á); Tone 3 (T3): dipping (ǎ); Tone 4 (T4): high falling (à)). Learning Mandarin tones is known to be difficult for speakers from diverse linguistic backgrounds. The perception of Mandarin tones by naïve, non-native listeners from two tonal languages with a larger tone inventory than Mandarin—Thai and Vietnamese—was examined. The listeners’ discrimination accuracy of six tone pairs (T1–T2, T1–T3, T1–T4, T2–T3, T2–T4, T3–T4) was assessed and compared to that of native speakers of Mandarin on the one hand and Australian English on the other hand. The Thai and Vietnamese groups were clearly less accurate than the Mandarin group and showed a different pattern of results from each other. The Australian English group was less accurate than the Thai group only for T2–T4 and did not differ from the Vietnamese group for any of the pairs. Taken together, these findings suggest that first language tone knowledge may not necessarily be facilitative and that lack of experience with lexical tones may not disadvantage listeners from non-tonal language backgrounds in processing unfamiliar tones.
- cross-language Speech Perception
- Mandarin Lexical Tones
- Australian English