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The perception of tones and phones

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Abstract

Tone languages use lexical tone at the syllable level to contrast word meaning. In this chapter we present an overview of the status of tone research to date – what tone is, its unique status as both a segmental and suprasegmental feature of speech, and how it differs from other pitch-related information in speech – pitch-accent, intonation, stress, and emotional tone. The process by which tone perception develops from infancy through childhood to adulthood is reviewed for both tone and non-tone language speakers by drawing on the results of studies that have evaluated the perceptual salience of tones versus phones in speech perception, tonological versus phonological awareness tasks, spelling, and orthography. Issues regarding the status of tone as a linguistic device are considered with due reference to hemispheric (brain) specialisation of tone versus pitch processing, and the influence of linguistic versus non-linguistic context on tone perception. The chapter concludes with a comparison of the similarities and differences between tone and phone perception, and suggestions regarding possible directions for future research on tone perception.

References

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