Rice University

Events at Rice

Thesis Defense

Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

Speaker: RU-PING TSO
Doctoral Candidate

The Effect of Chinese Characters on the Speech Perception and Production of Retroflex Sibilants in Taiwan Mandarin

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
9:00 AM  to 12:00 PM

310  Rayzor Hall

Evidence has shown that subtle implicit information of speaker’s characteristics or social identity inferred by the listener can influence how language varieties are perceived, and cause significant effects on the result of speech perception (e.g., Williams 1976; Beebe 1981; Thakerar and Giles 1981; Niedzielski 1999; Hay et al. 2006a; Hay and Drager 2010; Koops 2011). This dissertation aimed at studying the effects of Chinese orthography on the speech production and perception of retroflex sibilants in Mandarin Chinese. The two variants of written characters, traditional and simplified, served as subtle implicit information to index speaker’s identity of a Taiwan Mandarin speaker or Beijing Mandarin speaker respectively. The experiment designs were based on the hypotheses that Taiwan Mandarin speakers are aware of the differences between Taiwan Mandarin and Beijing Mandarin at both segmental and suprasegmental level. Furthermore, the association between simplified Chinese characters and Beijing Mandarin in the mind of Taiwan Mandarin speakers is strong enough that Beijing Mandarin dialectal features can be activated by the presence of simplified characters. In the word-identification task of the perception study, a statistically significant relationship between the identification of retroflex phonemes and the variety of written Chinese characters was found for all participants with a Person’s chi-square test of association. With a 95% confidence interval, the odds ratio estimated that with the presence of simplified Chinese characters, participants were at least 1.83 times more likely to identify a retroflex audio stimulus with the actual retroflex phoneme instead of its corresponding alveolar sound than with the presence of traditional Chinese characters. The effect of character variation on speech production was not as straightforward as that in perception. From the data collected in this study, minimal effect was found; however, when taking the speaker’s attitude towards different varieties of characters into consideration, the personal preference toward the varieties of characters may lead to a stylistic and intentional variation in speech production of retroflex sibilants. It was found through the interview with participants of this study that Taiwan Mandarin speakers were fully aware of the variation in the production of retroflex sibilants. They were also aware of the association between simplified characters and Beijing Mandarin dialect and this association was activated during the speech perception and production experiments of this dissertation. This study adds to the finding of research in sociophonetic variations that an asymmetry in speech production and speech perception may be a deliberate choice of the speaker instead of a result of unconscious perception and production of speech. In addition, using varieties of orthography as conditional stimuli creates the question as whether this type of stimuli should be considered as verbal or nonverbal. In the current study, it was proposed that the marked variant of the characters, which is the variant less familiar to the speaker, should be considered as nonverbal while the unmarked variant should be considered as verbal stimuli. The cognitive processing of two modes of input in this situation could be explained with the dual coding theory (Paivio 1971, 1986).

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