Dissertation > Language, writing > Chinese > Chinese language teaching > Teaching method > Child language research

A Study of the Tone Acquisition of the Mandarin-speaking Child from One to Two and Half Years

Author MaHuiQin
Tutor ChenXiaoXiang
School Hunan University
Course Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Keywords tone acquisition children from one to two and half years southernMandarin Independence Hypothesis Hypothesis of Early Interaction
CLC H193.1
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
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How children acquire their L1has been predicted and explained under differenthypotheses. One is the Independence Hypothesis advanced by Lenneberg(1967) andthe other is the Hypothesis of Early Interaction by Boysson-Bardies et al.(1989). Theformer claims that L1development is constrained by biological maturational processes,with no link to perceptual mechanisms, that is, language development is independentof linguistic environment. The latter is that perceptuo-motor attunements alreadyoperate in L1development, so the ambient and environmental effects can be tracedfrom an early age. We conduct an investigation on the tone acquisition in earlylanguage development by using longitudinal data of one Mandarin-speaking childliving in Changsha.Specifically, this thesis addresses the following three questions:1) At what age does the young child acquire the Mandarin tones?2) Of the four tones, which tone is acquired first? Are the rising and dipping tonesmore challenging for the Mandarin-speaking child from one to two and half years?3) Do the findings on the young child support the Independence Hypothesis or theHypothesis of Early Interaction?The female subject P, growing up in Changsha, was exposed to SouthernMandarin. The infant at the age of one-year to two-year four month was audio-andvideo-taped almost once a month at her home. Nearly14hours of video andaudio-recordings of up to45-60minutes each were made under natural observation.The narrow IPA and five-point-scale tone letters were used in transcribing the1268CVs chosen from2294utterances produced by the child. The segmentation andtranscription were completed by the author alone. One MA student in the field ofLinguistics and three other postgraduates majoring in Mandarin Phonetics were invitedto check against the auditory judgments made by the author. The intra-reliability was96.65%and the inter-reliability was92.5%.The CV utterances in the utterance-final positions and in isolation that frequentlyoccurred were chosen as the target for analysis and the data were from both the infantand her caregiver. The F0values of1268monosyllables were measured andnormalized by PRAAT. I used Shi’s method of turning normalized F0values intorelative pitch values (T-values) according to the scale defined by maximum andminimum F0values (2009). My findings reveal that:1) The infant gains a full mastery of four-tone system of Mandarin Chinese whenshe is two years old. The accurate production of T2and T4is still very high though sheexperiences some difficulty in distinguishing the two tones.2) Of the four tones, the subject acquires high level as well as high falling tonesby the end of one-year and two months old, high rising tone is mastered four monthslater, and the fall rise tone is mastered at the age of two. In addition, the child’spreference for non-complex contour tones (level, falling and rising) over complexcontour tones (fall-rise) reflects in the distribution properties of tonal contours in herearly tonal production. She has confusion about the T2-T3pair, the underlying reasonslie in the infants’ perceptual difficulties, physiological constraints of her articulators,similar phonological features of the two tones as well as marking convention.3) Our findings lend a strong support for the Hypothesis of Early Interaction. Asthe subject gets more exposure to her mother tongue, all the values of her toneproduction get approaching to adults’, indicating the effect of ambient language.Her performances on the four tones suggest that the prosodic development ofinfant is an interaction between the universal articulatory tendencies and the influenceof the ambient language.

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