Mandarin fricatives redux: The psychological reality of phonological representations

Yu-An Lu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This study contributes to the long-standing debate on the phonological representation of Mandarin palatals. The controversy results from the fact that the palatals [tc{curly tail}, tc{curly tail}h, c{curly tail}] are restricted to specific contexts and do not occur in the same contexts as three other sets of Mandarin consonants: the velars [k, kh, x], the dentals [ts, tsh, s], and the retroflexes [ts{right tail}, ts{right tail}h, s{right tail}]. The debate has focused on the question of whether, in pursuit of an economical phoneme inventory, palatals should be derived from some other set of underlying sounds and, if so, with which series the palatal sounds should be identified. This paper reports on the results of experimental investigation of the perception and processing of the Mandarin fricatives [c{curly tail}] and [s]. These two sounds are in complementary distribution in Mandarin and have been considered by various researchers to be allophonic variants of the same phoneme category. The results of two tasks, similarity ratings and discrimination of sounds on a continuum, suggest that even though the distribution of [s] and [c{curly tail}] is predictable in Mandarin, Mandarin speakers do not necessarily treat the two sounds as variants of the same phoneme category.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-69
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Allophony
  • Contrast
  • Economy
  • Fricatives
  • Mandarin palatals
  • Phonological representation

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