Annabelle Soto & Sarah Grey, PhD, Fordham University
The purpose of this study was to investigate whether adults who are international adoptees (IAs) and whose birth language is a tonal language are better at producing and perceiving tonal speech sounds compared to non-IAs. Our second research question addressed looking into whether the age of adoption was an important factor for tone perception and production. Our hypothesis was that IAs retain some ability to perceive different tones and are better at perception and production compared to non-IAs who have not had as much exposure; thus, tone perception and production would be related to the age of adoption. A total of sixty research participants were included in this study. The participants in the test group were thirty adults who were adopted from China as infants and who have grown up in the United States or Canada. The control group consisted of thirty non-IA adults who are native speakers of English, with more than half of the group being bilingual or multilingual. All the participants were between the ages of 18-46 years old with no known speech, language or hearing disorders. Testing occurred via Zoom in one-to-one private meetings. The audio samples of target tonal words were pre-recorded using an iOS voice recorder and produced by a female native Mandarin speaker at a conversational speed. As an exercise session before the collection of data, the researcher played a couple of examples in each tone to teach the participants the basics of what each tone sounds like. During the data collection, research participants were required to listen to the pre-recorded stimuli list of ten monosyllabic words, ten disyllabic words, and ten multisyllabic words. After the tone perception testing session, participants were asked to repeat the audio recordings of twenty multisyllabic sentences and phrases. The productions were recorded and then analyzed by a native Mandarin speaker for their tone production accuracy. The results showed that IAs had significantly better tone perception compared to non-IAs, even after controlling for the confounding variables of prior experience with music and Chinese language lessons with a mean tone perception score of 50.7 (S.D.= 19.3) for the IA group and 29.6 (S.D.= 8.6) for the non-IA group. However, there was no significant difference in tone production as the score for the IA group was 72.7 (S.D.= 15.1) and the mean tone production score for the non-IA group was 58.7 (S.D.= 14.3). In addition, age of adoption was found to be a significant factor for participants in the IA group regarding tone production scores (r (29) =0.4, p<0.05), however it was not significantly related to tone perception skills (r (29) =0.23, p =0.23). Our results suggest that birth language tone perception advantages are retained even after twenty years of adoption and could be related to Chinese and music lessons. This could be useful information for families interested in adopting internationally and the adoptees when they are considering birth language acquisition.