Frye, C. I., & Creel, S. C. (2013). Emotional Speech Processing and Language Knowledge. In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2333–2337). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
How does language knowledge affect processing of paralinguistic information—vocal properties that are not directly related to understanding words? This study investigates links between a listener’s native language, any other languages they may have experience in, and the ability to identify vocal emotional information in those languages. The study focuses on two particular classes of languages: those with lexical tone, such as Mandarin Chinese, which use pitch properties to distinguish otherwise-identical words; and those without lexical tone, such as English. English listeners and bilingual Mandarin-English listeners listened to sentences and categorized the emotional content of English and Mandarin sentences. Half of the sentences were presented normally; the other half were low-pass filtered to remove all but prosodic cues (pitch and timing). English listeners were better at identifying emotions in English sentences, while bilinguals were equally good at identifying emotions in both languages. This indicates better overall emotion recognition from prosody alone for listeners more familiar with a language. It may point to a connection between tone language experience and augmented paralinguistic processing capabilities.