University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This study investigated the production of five Mandarin and English sibilant fricatives by heritage speakers of Mandarin in comparison to native speakers and late learners. Almost all speakers were found to distinguish the Mandarin retroflex and alveolo-palatal, as well as the Mandarin alveolo-palatal and English palato-alveolar. However, fewer distinguished the Mandarin retroflex and English palato-alveolar or the Mandarin and English alveolars, with the majority of heritage speakers falling into this group of "distinguishers" in both cases. These results indicate that heritage speakers, in addition to most late learners, do not have much trouble with the Mandarin post-alveolar contrast, and furthermore, that while native speakers and late learners of Mandarin tend to merge similar Mandarin and English sounds, heritage speakers tend to keep them apart. Thus, of the three groups heritage speakers appear to be the best at maintaining contrast between categories both within and across languages.