Prior work has suggested that rime (vowel) information is given priority over tone information in the perception of isolated words but there are flipped roles of tone and rime in a semantically constraining context. Here, I examined the eye gaze of native listeners of Mandarin Chinese, asking when and how top-down contextual effects from hearing a noun classifier constrains real-time processing of a target noun, and whether this classifier context has differential impacts on activating tone and rime information. The results show that, when hearing the classifier, average looking time to the target noun and noun competitors with the same tone or rime was significantly greater than to phonologically unrelated nouns. Moreover, fixations to the target were significantly greater to the phonological competitors only in a high-constraint classifier context. In addition, there was more distraction from a tone competitor than a rime competitor only in the high-constraint context. Results suggest that segmental and lexical tone perception follow different perceptual processes, and that tone was predicted ahead of rime when perceiving spoken words in context.
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Thesis advisor: Yeung, Henny
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