Liu, L., Yuan, C., Ong, J. H., Tuninetti, A., Antoniou, M., Cutler, A., & Escudero, P.
(2022). Learning to perceive non-native tones via distributional training: Effects of task and acoustic cue weighting. Brain Sciences, 12(5): 559. doi:10.3390/brainsci12050559.
As many distributional learning (DL) studies have shown, adult listeners can achieve discrimination of a difficult non-native contrast after a short repetitive exposure to tokens falling at the extremes of that contrast. Such studies have shown using behavioural methods that a short distributional training can induce perceptual learning of vowel and consonant contrasts. However, much less is known about the neurological correlates of DL, and few studies have examined non-native lexical tone contrasts. Here, Australian-English speakers underwent DL training on a Mandarin tone contrast using behavioural (discrimination, identification) and neural (oddball-EEG) tasks, with listeners hearing either a bimodal or a unimodal distribution. Behavioural results show that listeners learned to discriminate tones after both unimodal and bimodal training; while EEG responses revealed more learning for listeners exposed to the bimodal distribution. Thus, perceptual learning through exposure to brief sound distributions (a) extends to non-native tonal contrasts, and (b) is sensitive to task, phonetic distance, and acoustic cue-weighting. Our findings have implications for models of how auditory and phonetic constraints influence speech learning.