A Comparison of the Plosives of English and Mandarin- with a focus on the unaspirated plosives of both languages

Lim Teck Siong

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 1999


Mandarin plosives are categorised into two groups, as voiceless unaspirated and voiceless aspirated plosives. English plosives on the other hand are categorised into voiced and voiceless plosives. Within a word-initial context English voiced plosives are also usually devoiced. This implies that Mandarin unaspirated plosives and English voiced plosives are phonetically similar, because they are all voiceless in word-initial position. However, Singaporean speakers are able to perceive a difference between Mandarin unaspirated plosives and their English counterparts.

        With reference to this observation, this AE conducts an instrumental study that compares English and Mandarin plosives, with a focus on the unaspirated plosives because that is where greater differences were perceived. This AE tries to identify the acoustic differences between these plosives within an impressionistic "abrupt/ enduring" framework (Mandarin unaspirated plosives are abrupt, their English counterparts are enduring). The aim is to establish the acoustic correlates of this impressionistic distinction in three conventional perception cues, F1 transition, VOT and medial voicing, and to investigate how effective these three cues are as acoustic correlates of this "abrupt/ enduring" labels. F1 transition is found to be unreliable.

        This AE also describes bilingual Singaporeans Chinese speech behaviour (between Mandarin and English) in terms of the cues to see what differences Singaporean speakers have when they produce Mandarin plosives and when they produce English plosives. These characteristics are then compared to those of British and Mainland Chinese speakers.

        The aims of this AE are therefore

  1. to compare the acoustic characteristics of the supposedly similar unaspirated plosives of English and Mandarin, and

  2. to compare the speech characteristics between Native and Local speakers to see what cues are used in their speech to differentiate between two different categories either within the same language or in different languages.