In joint work with Yao Yao, Erin Haynes, and Russell Rhomieux (né Rhodes), I am investigating how American heritage speakers of Mandarin Chinese differ from late-onset second language (L2) learners of Mandarin and English in both their Mandarin and English phonologies.
Our findings have shown that heritage speakers generally outperform late-onset L2 learners in the production of both language-internal phonological contrast as well as cross-linguistic phonetic contrast (Chang, Haynes, Yao & Rhodes, 2009, 2010; Chang, Yao, Haynes & Rhodes, 2011).
In our most recent work, we have examined the acoustic and perceptual properties of heritage speakers’ tone production, as well as the demographic classification of heritage speakers on the basis of their speech. Our results (reported in Chang & Yao, 2016) suggest that heritage speakers approximate native-like production more closely than L2 speakers in some, but not all, aspects of tone (namely, the pitch contour of Tone 3, durational shortening in connected speech, and rates of Tone 3 reduction in non-phrase-final contexts) and show higher levels of tonal variability than native or L2 speakers. Further, heritage speakers’ tones differ from both native and L2 speakers’ in terms of intelligibility and perceived goodness, and heritage speakers are more difficult to classify demographically than native or L2 speakers. In short, the findings suggest that early heritage language experience can, but does not necessarily, result in a phonological advantage over L2 learners with respect to tone, and add support to the view that heritage speakers are language users distinct from both native and L2 speakers.