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Distributional Learning of Nonnative Tones (Chui & Qin, 2024)

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posted on 2024-06-11, 16:38 authored by Yin-To Chui, Zhen Qin

Purpose: Previous studies have reported the success of distributional learning for adult speakers across segmental and suprasegmental categories immediately after training. On the other hand, second language (L2) perception models posit that the ease with which learners perceive a nonnative speech contrast depends on the perceptual mapping between the contrast and learners’ first language (L1) categories. This study examined whether a difference in perceptual mapping patterns for different L2–Mandarin tonal contrasts might result in a difference in distributional learning effectiveness for tonal speakers and whether an interval of sleep enhanced the knowledge through consolidation.

Method: Following a pretest–training–posttest design, 66 L1–Cantonese participants with fewer than 9 years of Mandarin training were assigned to either the bimodal or unimodal distribution conditions. The participants of each group were asked to discriminate Mandarin level-falling (T1–T4) and level-rising (T1–T2) tone pairs on novel syllables in a within-subject design. All participants were trained in the evening, tested after training, and returned after 12 hr for overnight consolidation assessment.

Results: A significant distributional learning effect was observed for Mandarin T1–T4, but only after sleep. No significant distributional learning effect was observed for Mandarin T1–T2, either after training or after sleep.

Conclusions: The findings may imply that distributional learning is contingent on perceptual mapping patterns of the target contrasts and that sleep may play a role in the consolidation of knowledge in an implicit statistical learning paradigm.

Supplemental Material S1. Individual reaction time data in the ABX task.

Supplemental Material S2. Full model results in the by-syllable and by-gender analysis in the ABX tasks.

Chui, Y.-T., & Qin, Z. (2024). Distributional learning and overnight consolidation of nonnative tonal contrasts by tonal language speakers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 67(7), 2038–2052.


This research was supported by the Postgraduate Research Grant and Publication Capacity Fund at the Division of Humanities, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, awarded to Yin-To Chui and Zhen Qin, respectively.