Variation in phonological bias: Bias for vowels, rather than consonants or tones in lexical processing by Cantonese-learning toddlers

Hui CHEN, Tsz Hin Daniel LEE, Zili Lizz LUO, Yee King Regine LAI, Hin Tat CHEUNG, Thierry NAZZI

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

Abstract

Consonants and vowels have been considered to fulfill different functions in language processing, vowels being more important for prosodic and syntactic processes and consonants for lexically related processes (Nespor, Peña, & Mehler, 2003). This C-bias hypothesis in lexical processing is supported by studies with adults and infants in many languages such as English, French, Spanish, although a few studies, on Danish and Mandarin, suggest the existence of cross-linguistic variation. The present study explores whether a C-bias exists in a tone language with a complex tone system, Cantonese, by comparing the relative weight given to consonants, vowels, and also tones during word learning. To do so, looking behaviors of Cantonese-learning 20- and 30-month-olds (24 children per age/condition, 6 groups) were recorded by an eyetracker while they watched animated cartoons in Cantonese to learn pairs of novel words. The words differed minimally by either a consonant (e.g., /tœ6/ vs. /kœ6/), a vowel (e.g., /khim3/ vs. /khɛm3/), or a tone (e.g., T2 vs. T5). Analyses on proportional looking times revealed significant learning in 30-month-olds only, and at that age, only for the vowel contrasts. Growth curve analyses revealed better performance for the vowel condition compared to the other two conditions. The present findings establish a V-bias in Cantonese-learning 30-month-olds, adding new evidence from that tone language that the C-bias in lexical processing is not language-general. Implications for theoretical discussions on the origins of this phonological bias, and the impact of tones in early language acquisition, are discussed. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104486
JournalCognition
Early online date17 Oct 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Oct 2020

Citation

Chen, H., Lee, D. T., Luo, Z., Lai, R. Y., Cheung, H., & Nazzi, T. (2020). Variation in phonological bias: Bias for vowels, rather than consonants or tones in lexical processing by Cantonese-learning toddlers. Cognition. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104486

Keywords

  • Phonological bias
  • Word learning
  • Minimal pairs
  • Cantonese

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