The role of musical training and linguistic experience in non-native lexical tone processing
Tan, Shen Hui
Date of Issue2018-12-31
School of Humanities
Musical training has been found to enhance the perception of non-native lexical tones, however, not much is known about how it may interact with other contextual factors such as linguistic experience to affect non-native lexical tone processing, and whether it may also enhance the production of non-native lexical tones. To better qualify the extent of its effect on non-native lexical tone processing, the independent and joint effects of musical training and linguistic experience on the perception and production of non-native lexical tones are explored in the present study. Four groups of participants were tested: Tone-language-speaking musicians (Tm), tone-language-speaking non-musicians (Tnm), non-tone-language-speaking musicians (NTm), and non-tone-language-speaking non-musicians (NTnm). In Experiment 1, participants discriminated non-native Thai lexical tones in three forms: normal Thai speech, low-pass filtered Thai speech, and violin analogues of the Thai speech. In Experiment 2, participants imitated Thai lexical tones, and their tone productions were evaluated via a tone identification task and a tone rating task by a separate group of native Thai informants. Results revealed no statistically significant independent or combined effects of musical training or language experience in both experiments. Across groups, participants generally had comparably good perception and production of the non-native Thai tones. As this was contrary to past findings, further investigations were conducted. Secondary data analysis using data from the study by Burnham et al. (2015) indicated that the lack of group differences in the perception task could not be attributed to enhancements in non-native lexical tone perception among non-tone participants as a result of long-term ambient exposure to tone languages. Meanwhile, further analysis conducted on the production task results using confusion matrices revealed that tone language speakers produced more confusable tones, especially if they were also non-musicians. This suggests an interaction effect of musical training with tone language experience in non-native lexical tone production, whereby the former mitigates disadvantages caused by the latter. Given this finding, the statistically non-significant results of both experiments were most probably due to insufficient task difficulty, as well as a lack of sensitivity of accuracy rates as a measure of participants’ performance. Overall, although the current study did not replicate past findings of a facilitatory effect of musical training on non-native lexical tone perception, it shed some light on the conditions for this effect to be manifested instead. Notably, it presents novel findings of an interaction between musical training and tone language experience during non-native lexical tone production which demonstrates that the benefits of musical training to non-native lexical tone processing not only extend beyond perception to production but can also be experienced by tone language speakers. The current study thus contributes to our understanding of when and how musical training may interact with linguistic experience to affect non-native lexical tone processing, which has practical implications on the second language (L2) acquisition of tone languages.