Emphasising sound and meaning: pitch gestures enhance Mandarin lexical tone acquisition

Laura M. Morett*, Li Yun Chang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Lexical tones – pitches differentiating between word meanings in tonal languages – are particularly difficult for atonal language speakers to learn. To test the hypotheses of embodied cognition and spoken word recognition, we examined whether – and how – gesture could facilitate English speakers' discrimination between Mandarin words differing in lexical tone. Words were learned with gestures conveying tone pitch contours (pitch gestures), gestures conveying word meanings (semantic gestures) or no gestures. The results demonstrated that pitch gestures enhanced English speakers' discrimination between the meanings of Mandarin words differing in tone, whereas semantic gestures hindered their identification of tones in learned words. These findings indicate that the visuospatial features of pitch gestures strengthen the relationship between English speakers' representations of Mandarin lexical tones and word meanings, supporting the predictions of spoken word recognition and embodied cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-353
Number of pages7
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Mar 16
Externally publishedYes


  • embodied cognition
  • gesture
  • lexical tone
  • second language acquisition
  • spoken word recognition
  • word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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