Perceptual sensitivity to tonal alignment in Nuer

Siri Gjersøe*, Bert Remijsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper examines the perceptual threshold in patterns of tonal timing (alignment) of Falling versus Low tones. The results indicate a remarkable sensitivity among the listeners. In a perception experiment with 30 participants, we tested how native speakers of the West Nilotic language Nuer responded to stimuli in which the timing of the F0 fall that distinguishes Low versus Fall following a High target is manipulated. We measured the threshold for the responses to shift tone perception from 25% to 75%. The results show that listeners only needed an average of 19 ms to differentiate between the melodic shapes and as little as 13 ms for one item. Perceptual sensitivity this fine-grained is not expected based on what is known about the Just Noticeable Difference (JND) from previous studies. Results from non-tonal languages report a sensitivity threshold for tonal timing of at least 50 ms at category boundaries. This difference suggests that whether or not subjects speak a tone language may be a determining factor in their JND.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
JournalLanguage and Speech
Early online date25 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Apr 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Nuer
  • tone
  • perception
  • F0
  • tonal alignment
  • JND


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