Concurrent-vowel and tone recognition by Mandarin-speaking cochlear implant users


In Mandarin Chinese, tonal patterns are lexically meaningful. In a multi-talker environment, competing tones may create interference in addition to competing vowels and consonants. The present study measured Mandarin-speaking cochlear implant (CI) users’ ability to recognize concurrent vowels, tones, and syllables in a concurrent-syllable recognition test. Concurrent syllables were constructed by summing either one Chinese syllable each from one male and one female talker or two syllables from the same male talker. Each talker produced 16 different syllables (4 vowels combined with 4 tones); all syllables were normalized to have the same overall duration and amplitude. Both single- and concurrent-syllable recognition were measured in 4 adolescent and 4 adult CI subjects, using their clinically assigned speech processors. The results showed no significant difference in performance between the adolescent and adult CI subjects. With single syllables, mean vowel recognition was 90% correct, while tone and syllable recognition were only 63 and 57% correct, respectively. With concurrent syllables, vowel, tone, and syllable recognition scores dropped by 40-60 percentage points. Concurrent-syllable performance was significantly correlated with single-syllable performance. Concurrent-vowel and syllable recognition were not significantly different between the same- and different-talker conditions, while concurrent-tone recognition was significantly better with the same-talker condition. Vowel and tone recognition were better when concurrent syllables contained the same vowels or tones, respectively. Across the different vowel pairs, tone recognition was less variable than vowel recognition; across the different tone pairs, vowel recognition was less variable than tone recognition. Thepresent results suggest that interference between concurrent tones may contribute to Mandarin-speaking CI users’ susceptibility to competing-talker backgrounds.

Hearing Research, 256(1-2), 75-84