Tune in to the tone: Lexical tone identification is associated with vocabulary and word recognition abilities in young Chinese children

Xiuli TONG, Xiuhong TONG, Catherine MCBRIDE-CHANG

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Lexical tone is one of the most prominent features in the phonological representation of words in Chinese. However, little, if any, research to date has directly evaluated how young Chinese children’s lexical tone identification skills contribute to vocabulary acquisition and character recognition. The present study distinguished lexical tones from segmental phonological awareness and morphological awareness in order to estimate the unique contribution of lexical tone in early vocabulary acquisition and character recognition. A sample of 199 Cantonese children aged 5–6 years was assessed on measures of lexical tone identification, segmental phonological awareness, morphological awareness, nonverbal ability, vocabulary knowledge, and Chinese character recognition. It was found that lexical tone awareness and morphological awareness were both associated with vocabulary knowledge and character recognition. However, there was a significant relationship between lexical tone awareness and both vocabulary knowledge and character recognition, even after controlling for the effects of age, nonverbal ability, segmental phonological awareness and morphological awareness. These findings suggest that lexical tone is a key factor accounting for individual variance in young children’s lexical acquisition in Chinese, and that lexical tone should be considered in understanding how children learn new Chinese vocabulary words, in either oral or written forms. Copyright © 2014 The Author(s).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-458
JournalLanguage and Speech
Volume58
Issue number4
Early online date29 Dec 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

Citation

Tong, X., Tong, X., & McBride-Chang, C. (2015). Tune in to the tone: Lexical tone identification is associated with vocabulary and word recognition abilities in young Chinese children. Language and Speech, 58(4), 441-458. doi: 10.1177/0023830914562988

Keywords

  • Lexical tone identification
  • Morphological awareness
  • Segmental phonological awareness
  • Vocabulary acquisition
  • Word recognition

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