The Mandarin sibilants z c s, zh ch sh, and j q x, which occur in the words 資疵思, 知吃師, and 雞七西, respectively, are often considered difficult sounds to be correctly distinguished and pronounced. In Cantonese, only one of these sibilant sets, namely, z c s, is found. To better understand what happens when Cantonese learners attempt these sounds, the project investigated the acoustic and perceptual characteristics of syllable-initial Mandarin sibilants.
To explore this interesting topic, the acoustic and perceptual data of eight Cantonese-speaking university students were collected. Acoustically, the participants’ pronunciation of test words containing Mandarin and Cantonese sibilants was analysed for their spectral properties. Perceptually, perceptual assessment and identification tests were used to obtain their perceptual characteristics.
In general, the Cantonese learners exhibited better performance in perception than in production, indicating a difference in competence between the production and perception of Mandarin sibilants. In production, approximately 70% of the test words were pronounced incorrectly or differently from the way in which a native Mandarin speaker would pronounce them. Also, the frication noise patterns of the Mandarin sibilants differed from those of their Cantonese counterparts. In perception, approximately 90% of the test words were identified correctly. The project results thus demonstrate that Cantonese learners make more errors in the articulation than perception of Mandarin sibilants and that Cantonese does not exert a significant influence on Mandarin learning.
In conclusion, the methodology employed in this project allowed an in-depth examination of the production and perception of Mandarin sibilants by Cantonese learners. The phonetic information collected can lay the foundation for the development of more effective and analytical methods of teaching and self-learning concerning how to distinguish and articulate these Mandarin sounds correctly.