• Spoken word recognition;
  • Tones;
  • Vowels;
  • ERPs ;
  • Mandarin idioms


Using event-related potentials, this study measured the access of suprasegmental (tone) and segmental (vowel) information in spoken word recognition with Mandarin idioms. Participants performed a delayed-response acceptability task, in which they judged the correctness of the last word of each idiom, which might deviate from the correct word in either tone or vowel. Results showed that, compared with the correct idioms, a larger early negativity appeared only for vowel violation. Additionally, a larger N400 effect was observed for vowel mismatch than tone mismatch. A control experiment revealed that these differences were not due to low-level physical differences across conditions; instead, they represented the greater constraining power of vowels than tones in the lexical selection and semantic integration of the spoken words. Furthermore, tone violation elicited a more robust late positive component than vowel violation, suggesting different reanalyses of the two types of information. In summary, the current results support a functional dissociation of tone and vowel processing in spoken word recognition.