Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA Asian Studies


Language/Literature /Culture


Dr. Dongdong Chen

Committee Member

Dr. Pak-wah E. Leung

Committee Member

Dr. Liang-hua Yu


Tonal Acquisition, Disyllabic Words, Mandarin Learning


Mastering Mandarin tones is an indispensable path to achieving high Chinese language proficiency and a headache to a lot of American learners. Scholars keep studying this area, but this problem remains unsolved.

Through long-time observation of beginners, I found an interesting phenomenon: many students were able to correctly produce a certain tone (Tone X) which was contained by a monosyllable. However, when the students encountered a disyllabic word with the tone which they were skillful at (Tone X) and another different tone (Tone Y), the students showed no advantage on Tone X. This phenomenon motivated me to do research on tonal issues in order to help English-speaking students better acquire Mandarin tones.

Among the students in Introductory Chinese classes, I did Test A to look for the easiest tone (Tone X) for the participants and Test B to search for the easiest tonal combination (Tone X + Tone X / Y). After analyzing the data, I found that on average, students more often correctly identified disyllabic words with identical tones (Tone X + Tone X) than those with different tones (Tone X + Tone Y). Therefore, I suggest that students can be guided to practice the tonal combination of Tone X + Tone X first until they master this tone and then move to the next tonal combination. After they become familiar with every single tone, the students will better acquire combination of Tone X + Tone Y.