Tone Perception in Rural Mexico: Cultural Expectations and Speech Theory

Monday, 17 February 2014
Gold Coast (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Christian DiCanio , Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, CT
Trique, an indigenous language of Mexico, has an elaborate tone system that distinguishes words using up to nine distinct pitch patterns. Some of the intriguing questions in languages like this are "Exactly how do native speakers tell the different words apart?" and "Are speakers of these languages exceptional in their ability to perceive pitch differences?" Linguistic research on other tone languages, like Chinese or Thai, has found that native listeners of a tone language are better at perceiving pitch than native listeners of non-tonal languages. Here, the opposite was found. Listeners of French, a non-tonal language, were better at discriminating pitch than native Trique listeners. Along with listeners' differing educational backgrounds, differing linguistic and cultural expectations seem to be the cause.