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Distinguishing Confusable Initials and Finals in Mandarin: Which one is harder?. Qin Gao. Introduction. Mandarin, while is spoken in most part of China, has multiple accents, especially in the south part of China, where very different dialects are spoken.

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distinguishing confusable initials and finals in mandarin which one is harder

Distinguishing Confusable Initials and Finals in Mandarin:Which one is harder?

Qin Gao

introduction
Introduction
  • Mandarin, while is spoken in most part of China, has multiple accents, especially in the south part of China, where very different dialects are spoken.
  • A phenomenon is commonly known that people in south part of China cannot pronounce and perceive the difference between several phoneme pairs.
confusable phonemes
Confusable Phonemes
  • Z /ts/ and Zh /ʈʂ/
  • C/tsʰ/ and Ch /ʈʂʰ/
  • S/s/ and Sh /ʂ/
  • n/n/ and ng /ŋ/
    • They are distinguishable when appear in compound finals ian/i̯ɛn/ and iang/i̯ɑŋ/, but it is because the co-articulation is so strange that the consonants before it are actually different
interesting phenomenon
Interesting Phenomenon
  • After living in north part of China:
    • Some people from the south learn how to distinguish the first three pairs, which are retroflex fricatives and normal fricatives
    • They still cannot distinguish the last pair, the dental/velar nasals
hypothesis
Hypothesis
  • It is clear that these pairs have difference in acoustic implementations
  • The interesting thing is, how easy is these “features” be learned by people. So we have two perceptual hypotheses:
    • People born in south part of China and live in north part of China for several years can distinguish Z-Zh, C-Ch and S-Sh
    • The same group of people cannot distinguish n-ng.
contrast hypothesis
Contrast Hypothesis
  • To further justify the result, we have two contrast hypotheses:
    • People born in south part of China and never lived in north part of China cannot distinguish Z-Zh, C-Ch and S-Sh
    • People born in north part of China can distinguish n and ng
acoustic hypothesis
Acoustic Hypothesis
  • There exists acoustic evidences on the initial consonant pairs (retroflex consonants) Z–Zh, C-Ch, S-Sh that are easier to perceive than the acoustic evidences in the final consonant pair N-Ng
reasoning
Reasoning

A group of people can learn to distinguish:

A group of people cannot learn to distinguish:

Zh

Z

n

ng

The phoneme pairs are different in:

F0/1/2 Movement?

Co-articulation?

Intensity?

The conclusion is:

Is easier to be learned than

F0/1/2 Movement?

Intensity?

original experiment setup
Original Experiment Setup
  • The words will be recorded by one male speaker that has standard pronunciation.
  • The pronunciation will be played back to the subject, and the two words, the subjects have to decide which one is pronounced.
  • The two words in one pair will not be presented together, namely the order will be shuffled, so the subject cannot perceive by comparing them.
  • A simple program will be written to collect the data.
modified experiment setup
Modified Experiment Setup
  • The words will be recorded by one male speaker that has standard pronunciation.
  • The pronunciation will be played back to the subject, only one word is shown, the listener has to decide whether the prompted word is pronunced.
  • The two words in one pair will not be presented together, namely the order will be shuffled, so the subject cannot perceive by comparing them.
  • A simple program will be written to collect the data.
subjects
Subjects

To perform the experiment, we have the following pool of subjects:

slide22

Zhang

Zang

slide23

Zhe

Ze

slide24

Zhi

Zi

slide25

Zhou

Zou

slide26

Zhu

Zu

slide27

Chang

Cang

slide28

Shang

Sang

slide29

pan

pang

slide30

ren

reng

slide31

jin

jing

summary what makes the difference
Summary : What makes the difference?
  • Retroflex Consonants:
    • In the beginning (more attention ?)
    • Difference in the middle frequency
    • Intensity
  • Nasal Finals
    • In the end of a syllable (less attention ?)
    • Difference in the movement of F2, F3
conclusion
Conclusion
  • Ability to distinguish retroflex fricative consonants are easier to obtain than dental/velar nasal consonants
  • Two possible reason for this:
    • The position of these sound
    • Difference on the intensity of middle frequency is easier to notice than the different movement of formants.
slide34
Q.A.
  • Q: Is it possible that the n-ng pair are actually not important in distinguishing meanings, i.e. no so much minimal pairs?
  • A: It is possible but no statistical result is done, but in my point of view, the three retroflex consonants together do have much more minimal pairs than n-ng. n-ng has more minimal pairs when appear in /iang/ and /ian/, but in those cases, we do not rely on n-ng to distinguish them,
slide35
Q.A
  • Q: Is it possible that people are award of the difference but just don’t know which one to assign to.
  • A: People do notice the difference when the minimal pairs are displayed together, but when displayed alone, people cannot tell which is which. This is something that people from the south going to “learn”, but people learn and remember Z,C,S easily but not on N-Ng. This can be explained by two possible reason:
    • Features for retroflex consonants are easier to learn
    • There are more minimal pairs of retroflex consonants so people learn it faster and pay more attention to it.
  • P.S The second explanation, raised by Alan, actually weaken the conclusion I made.