L1 experience shapes the perception of intonational contours

Elaine Schmidt, Carmen Kung, Brechtje Post, Ivan Yuen, Katherine Demuth

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


While the influence of L1 on the perception of segments is well established, the effect of L1 on the perception of suprasegmentals such as intonational contours is less known. Previous studies claim that suprasegmental processing is less sensitive to L1 experience because it is based mostly on general auditory mechanisms. Thus, falls and rises can be universally distinguished regardless of language background while different types of rises are processed similarly between language groups. However, often these studies have not included languages that actually use different types of rises linguistically. In this study we investigated the effects of L1 experience on the perception of rises by Australian-English listeners, for whom different rises signal the difference between interrogatives and declaratives in their L1, and Mandarin learners of English, who should be sensitive to tonal differences but not to the intonational differences tested here. Results demonstrate that the perception of suprasegmentals is indeed shaped by the L1 with a significantly better discrimination of rises by Australian-English listeners. Additionally, it appears that suprasegmental processing at the utterance level occurs independently from the lexical level since Mandarin listeners were not able to draw on tonal sensitivities for discrimination at the utterance (intonational) level.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the International Conference on Speech Prosody
Place of PublicationBaixas
PublisherInternational Speech Communication Association (ISCA)
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event8th Speech Prosody - Boston University, Boston, United States
Duration: 31 May 20163 Jun 2016


Conference8th Speech Prosody
Abbreviated titleSP2016
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Intonation
  • Perceptual bias
  • Second language learners
  • Speech perception


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