How Cantonese-English bilingual adults use prosody to interpret focus in English: Evidence from eye movement in the Visual World Paradigm

Symposium 2-2Time:08:30 - 10:00

Haoyan Ge1,2 ,Ziyin Mai1,2
1CUHK-PKU-UST Joint Research Centre for Language and Human Complexity,

2Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre, Chinese University of Hong Kong

This eye-tracking study investigates how Cantonese-English bilingual adults interpret focus which involves the integration of prosody and other domains of linguistic knowledge (Crain, 2012; Zhou & Crain, 2010) using the Visual World Paradigm (Tanenhaus et al., 1995) In sentences with the focus particle only, different accent placement triggers different sets of alternatives and affects the truth-value of the sentence (Jackendoff, 1972; Rooth, 1992). By contrast, the use of prosody to realize focus in tonal languages like Cantonese is highly constrained, as the pitch range is used for lexical contrasts (Chao, 1947).  Twenty Cantonese-English bilingual adults (mean age=20) and twenty native speakers of English (mean age=21) participated in this study. They heard English only-sentences with the accent falls on either the object or the verb (as in (1a-b)) while looking at four pictures. By measuring the time course of eye movements, our study aims to detect the earliest point that participants’ fixation patterns give evidence that they consider the alternatives. A post-test acoustic task was conducted to examine whether the two groups are able to detect the placement of accent in speech perception.  We found a significant main effect for group after the object was heard: native controls performed anticipatory eye-movements to the alternatives before the offset of not based on the presence of prosodic cues, whereas Cantonese speakers did not fixate more on the alternatives until they heard the verb following not. In the acoustic task, both groups demonstrated around 90% accuracy rate and the reaction time did not reveal significant differences between groups. Our results suggest that though bilingual adults are able to detect accent placement, they have difficulty in integrating prosodic cues and other levels of linguistic knowledge as native controls do. Our findings have implications for understanding the processing of interface phenomenon in bilingual speakers.

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December 10, 2016

Symposia submissions due:
March 1, 2017

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April 10, 2017

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May 20-22, 2017

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September 1-3, 2017