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Title: The Acquisition of Mandarin Prosody by American Learners of Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL)

Author: Chunsheng Yang 

Year and Degree: 2011, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, East Asian Languages and Literatures.


This dissertation examines the acquisition of Mandarin prosody by American learners of Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL). Specifically, it examines the four aspects of Mandarin prosody: (1) the prosodic phrasing (i.e., breaking up of utterances into smaller units); (2) the surface F0 and duration patterns of prosodic phrasing in a group of sentence productions elicited from L1 and L2 speakers of Mandarin Chinese; (3) the patterns of tones errors in L2 Mandarin productions; and (4) the relationship between tone errors and prosodic phrasing in L2 Mandarin. The analysis of prosodic phrasing in the corpus shows that prosodic phrasing is closely related to syntactic structure in both L1 and L2 Mandarin productions. Moreover, results show that the syntactic structure in a prosodic phrase does not influence the prosodic structure of that constituent in either the learner group or the native group. Analysis of the duration patterns in the L1 and L2 Mandarin corpus shows that the most consistent duration pattern that indexes prosodic phrasing is phrase-final lengthening. In addition, the duration analysis shows that the native group shows phrase-initial lengthening, the intermediate learner group shows phrase-initial shortening, and the advanced learner group shows no effect of phrasing on phrase-initial duration. This pattern of phrase-initial lengthening/shortening indicates a learning effect in that the advanced learner group patterned more similarly to the native group. We also observed the transfer of L1 English stress patterns, such as the weak versus strong alternating stress patterns in the L2 corpus. With respect to the F0 patterns of prosodic phrasing, it was found that the conflicting tone sequences (the sequences in which the target at the offset of a preceding tone and the target at the onset of the following tone are identical) posed more difficulty for learners than the compatible tone sequences (the sequences in which the target at the offset of a preceding tone and the target at the onset of a following tone are different). Specifically, the productions by the native speakers involved more target undershoot (namely, the tone targets are not fully realized) than those by the L2 learners.

It was also found that the tone target undershoot mostly occurred in the first prosodic phrase of an utterance. The transfer of English intonation patterns was also observed, such as the transfer of a high phrase accent at the end of a prosodic phrase. Analysis of tone errors shows that the low and rising tones were the most frequent tone errors produced by the two groups of learners in their L2 Mandarin productions, regardless of the underlying tones. The patterns of tone errors in different tone sequences suggest that the learners not only had difficulty in changing the tone targets quickly in the conflicting tone sequences, they also had difficulty in changing the F0 direction quickly in the compatible tone sequences. It is argued that these tone errors were produced as a consequence of the superimposition of the L1 English utterance-level prosody over tone production by L2 learners.