The Effect of Chinese Characters on the Speech Perception and Production of Retroflex Sibilants in Taiwan Mandarin
Tso, Ru-Ping Ruby
Doctor of Philosophy
Evidence has shown that subtle implicit information of a speaker’s characteristics or social identity inferred by the listener can influence how language varieties are perceived, and can cause significant effects on the result of speech perception (e.g., Williams 1976; Beebe 1981; Thakerar and Giles 1981; Niedzielski 1999; Hay et al. 2006a; Hay and Drager 2010; Koops 2011). This dissertation aimed at studying the effects of Chinese orthography on the speech production and perception of retroflex sibilants in Mandarin Chinese. The two variants of written Chinese characters, traditional and simplified, served as subtle implicit information to index speaker’s identity of a Taiwan Mandarin speaker or Beijing Mandarin speaker respectively. The experiment designs were based on the hypotheses that Taiwan Mandarin speakers are aware of the differences between the Taiwan Mandarin dialect and the Beijing Mandarin dialect at both segmental and suprasegmental level. Furthermore, Taiwan Mandarin speakers can activate dialectal features of Beijing Mandarin with the presence of simplified Chinese characters. In the word-identification tasks of the perception study, a statistically significant relationship between the identification of retroflex phonemes and the variety of written Chinese characters was found for all participants with a Person’s chi-square test of association. With a 95% confidence interval, the odds ratio estimated that with the presence of simplified Chinese characters, participants were at least 1.83 times more likely to identify a retroflex audio stimulus with the actual retroflex phoneme instead of its corresponding alveolar sound than with the presence of traditional Chinese characters. The effect of character variation on speech production was not as straightforward as that in perception. From the data collected in this study, minimal effect was found; however, when taking the speaker’s attitude towards different varieties of characters into consideration, personal preferences toward the varieties of characters may lead to a stylistic and intentional variation in speech production of retroflex sibilants. It was found through the interview with participants of this study that Taiwan Mandarin speakers were fully aware of the variation in the production of retroflex sibilants. They were also aware of the association between simplified characters and the Beijing Mandarin dialect and this association was activated during the speech perception and production experiments of this dissertation. This study adds to the finding of research in sociophonetic variations that an asymmetry in speech production and speech perception may be a deliberate choice of the speaker instead of a result of unconscious perception and production of speech. In addition, this dissertation also shows that the abundant cultural and ideological values associated with the usage of Chinese written characters and spoken dialects are potential topics of future research.