Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Effect of linguistic experience on the discrimination of Shona lexical tone

McLoddy R Kadyamusuma


This article examines how experience with a tone language (Thai) and with pitch variations at the sentential level (German) influences the perception of a typologically different tone language (Shona). Tone perception in adults is influenced by experience with the phonological inventory of one’s native language. However, the extant data demonstrates that good to ceiling performance on tone perception is not restricted to tone language listeners. To this effect tone perceptual discrimination was investigated in experiment 1 using minimal pairs of Shona words and their filtered homologues, whereas experiment 2 tested the effect of increasing the number of phonetic contrasts using minimal and non-minimal pairs in Shona words and low-pass filtered stimuli. The results revealed that the Shona and Thai listeners discriminated both the Shona words and low-pass filtered stimuli significantly better than the non-tone listeners in both experiments. In experiment 2 it was also observed that although the accuracy performance of the tone language listeners is comparable, the types and pattern of errors committed are quite different.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2012, 30(4): 469–485
AJOL African Journals Online