Date of Original Version
Abstract or Description
Within tone languages that use pitch variations to contrast meaning, large variability exists in the pitches produced by different speakers. Context-dependent perception may help to resolve this perceptual challenge. However, whether speakers rely on context in contour tone perception is unclear; previous studies have produced inconsistent results. The present study aimed to provide an unambiguous test of the effect of context on contour lexical tone perception and to explore its underlying mechanisms. In three experiments, Mandarin listeners’ perception of Mandarin first and second (high-level and mid-rising) tones was investigated with preceding speech and non-speech contexts. Results indicate that the mean fundamental frequency (f0) of a preceding sentence affects perception of contour lexical tones and the effect is contrastive. Following a sentence with a higher-frequency mean f0, the following syllable is more likely to be perceived as a lower frequency lexical tone and vice versa. Moreover, non-speech precursors modeling the mean spectrum of f0 also elicit this effect, suggesting general perceptual processing rather than articulatory-based or speaker-identity-driven mechanisms.