Applied Psycholinguistics

The representation and processing of tone in Mandarin Chinese: Evidence from slips of the tongue

a1 National Chung-Cheng University


The issue of how tones are represented and processed when speaking Mandarin Chinese was examined via naturalistic slips of the tongue. The slips were collected from tape-recorded radio call-in programs over a period of one year. One research assistant listened to the programs twice, and another listened to them a third time independently. All the errors judged to be slips by the assistants were reviewed by the author. A total of 987 slips were confirmed and classified according to the system of Garnham, Shillcock, Brown, Mill, and Cutler (1982). With respect to the sound movement errors, it was found that, although errors of segmental phonemes were fairly common, errors of tones were rare. Moreover, the error pattern of the tones was different from that of the segmental phonemes. The relative immunity of tone to production errors is similar to the problem of stress in English. It is suggested that lexical tones in Mandarin Chinese are represented and processed differently than segmental sounds but similarly to lexical stress in English. These characteristics of the Mandarin tones relative to the segmental sounds are described in a model of phonological encoding for a single word, adapted from Levelt (1989).

c1 Jenn-Yeu Chen, Department of Psychology, National Chung-Cheng University, 160 San Hsing, Min Hsiung, Chia Yi 621, Taiwan, R.O.C. Email: