Unlike Indo-European languages, Mandarin relies heavily on lexical tones to distinguish word identity. Using the intermodal preferential looking paradigm, this study examined 3-year-old Mandarinspeakers' ability to use Mandarin lexical tones in learning new words. Results showed that when children were presented with Tone 2 (rising) and Tone 4 (falling) pairs, children successfully learned both words. However, when children were presented with Tone 2 and Tone 3 (dipping) pairs, they learned the Tone 2 word but not the Tone 3 one. Children were then divided into two groups based on their learning performance on the Tone 3 word. Successful learning of Tone 3 words was observed in the high performers but not in the low performers, who consistently misused Tone 3 as Tone 2. This study showed that Mandarinspeaking 3-year-olds could use lexical tones to learn words under experimental conditions, and that the difficulty of Tone 3 acquisition may be related to its lower level of perceptual distinctiveness compared with other tones.
- lexical tone
- word learning