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Dissertation Information

Title: Variability in Cross-dialectal Production and Perception of Contrasting Phonemes: The case of the alveolar-retroflex contrast in Beijing and Taiwan Mandarin Add Dissertation
Author: Yung-Hsiang Chang Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2012
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonetics;
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Director(s): Chilin Shih

Abstract: The alveolar-retroflex contrast is a critical feature in Mandarin and is often
used to differentiate Beijing Mandarin from other dialects of Mandarin like
Taiwan Mandarin. While a number of linguistic and sociolinguistic factors
have been found to affect the alveolar-retroflex contrast, leading to variation
in Taiwan Mandarin, a consistent alveolar-retroflex distinction is described for
Beijing Mandarin in the literature on Mandarin phonology. With a series of
map tasks, this dissertation examines whether the production of alveolar-
retroflex contrast in both dialects is subject to the effects of vowel context
and focal prominence. With a discrimination task and a goodness rating task,
the categorical and gradient modes of alveolar-retroflex perception in different
vowel contexts are investigated for listeners of both dialects. Results of the
production study indicate that the acoustic characterization of Beijing vs.
Taiwan Mandarin alveolar-retroflex contrast varies by vowel and by how each
contrasting phoneme is realized in a particular vowel context. Focal
prominence is found to result in longer syllable durations but not increased
spectral distinctiveness between the alveolar and retroflex sibilants. The
findings are discussed with respect to enhancement theory. The perception
study found that Beijing and Taiwan listeners have different perceptual
boundaries along the acoustic continuum, with a lower cutoff frication
frequency required for the retroflex percepts for Beijing listeners. Listeners’
alveolar-retroflex boundaries shift to lower frequencies in the rounded vowel
context to normalize for vowel coarticulatory effects. Discrepant within-
category sensitivity was found in that while both Beijing and Taiwan listeners
perceive all retroflex variants as equally good, Beijing listeners consider the
endpoint variant of the alveolar as the best category exemplar. The findings
are discussed within the frameworks of quantal theory and exemplar theory
as well as with respect to the hyperspace effect in perception. Together, the
results show that linguistic (i.e., vowel context) and sociolinguistic (i.e.,
dialect) factors collectively and variably affect the production and perception
of the Mandarin alveolar-retroflex contrast.