The influence of native-language tones on lexical access in the second language

Anthony Shook, Viorica Marian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


When listening to speech in a second language, bilinguals' perception of acoustic-phonetic properties is often influenced by the features that are important in the native language of the bilingual. Furthermore, changes in the perception of segmental contrasts due to L1 experience can influence L2 lexical access during comprehension. The present study investigates whether the effect of L1 experience on L2 processing seen at the segmental level extends to suprasegmental processing. In an eye-tracking task, Mandarin-English bilinguals heard an auditorily presented English word and selected which of two visually presented Chinese characters represented the correct Mandarin translation. The pitch contour of the spoken word was manipulated to either match or mismatch the lexical tone of the Mandarin translation. Results revealed that bilinguals were significantly faster to correctly identify the target and made earlier eye movements to targets when the suprasegmental information of the word spoken in English matched that of its Mandarin translation. The findings provide compelling evidence for bilinguals' sensitivity to suprasegmental tone information, even when listening to a non-tonal language. These results have important implications for the effect of L1 experience on L2 lexical access and language interaction in bilinguals, and are consistent with a highly interactive account of language processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3102-3109
Number of pages8
Journaljournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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