Paper Abstract

Analysis of Mandarin Tonal Errors in Connected Speech
by English-Speaking American Adult Learners:
A Study at and Above the Word Level

This study is intended to present an authentic, dynamic and comprehensive picture of English-speaking Mandarin learnersÕ performance on dynamic tones in connected speech. A total of 6,236 analyzable syllables from 40 subjectsÕ natural running speech were analyzed with quantitative and qualitative means. The investigation at the word level focused on important factors that affect learnersÕ performance and analyzed error patterns in individual tones. The investigation above the word level observed and analyzed tonal error patterns in sequences and accredited them to various sources. The factors studied at the word level include target tone in Mandarin, learner-produced tone, position in the word, length and nature of learner exposure to the language, and general tonal competence. The error sources identified above the word level are transfer, avoidance, and development, which may all result in sequential error patterns. The multi-factor multi-source analysis has made it possible not only to reveal error patterns at the surface level but also to look into their underlying causes at a deeper level. Findings at and above the word level jointly led to a summary of tonal error patterns, a discussion of relevant learner factors, an acquisition order of tonal contrasts, a set of criteria for better tones, and pertinent pedagogical suggestions. All these are useful contributions to the profession of teaching Mandarin as a second language, and to the field of second language acquisition in general.

The significance of this study also lies in the research design. Specifically, this is the first concentrated systematic study of second language Mandarin tone acquisition with connected natural speech as data. Categories were expanded for both the Mandarin tonal system and learner-produced tones to work well with dynamic tones. Working rules were carefully developed to answer various challenges that arose during the research process. All these will be helpful references for future studies. Finally, the approach used in the study has the potential to serve diagnostic purposes for individual learners as well as a group of learners in facilitating their acquisition of Mandarin

--Doctoral Dissertation, Brigham Young University, 2000

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