Mismatch negativity (MMN) as an index of asymmetric processing of consonant duration in fake Mandarin geminates

Deviant-minus-standard difference waves for singleton and geminate conditions within 200–300 ms after the onset of the medial consonant (350–450 ms after the onset of stimuli). Upper row: nonword pair with Tone 1; Lower row: nonword pair with Tone 2. Maps display the topographic distribution of the mean amplitude in the MMN analysis window.


Unlike languages where consonant duration is used contrastively to distinguish word meanings, long consonants in Mandarin Chinese only occur across morpheme boundaries as a result of concatenation and are referred to as fake geminates. To investigate whether Mandarin speakers employ duration contrast to differentiate fake Mandarin geminates and corresponding singletons as well as the underlying pattern of the processing, two auditory oddball tasks were carried out to measure the component of MMN, an index of the automatic detection of deviant stimulus. Mandarin pseudoword pairs which differ only in the duration of the medial consonant ([an1 an1] ∼ [an1 nan1] vs. [an2 an2] ∼ [an2 nan2]) were used as stimuli. An asymmetric pattern of brain activation was observed where the singleton deviant in the context of geminate words elicited higher MMNs than in the reversed condition. These findings are in line with earlier research suggesting that the singleton is unspecified for a moraic representation, while the geminate is specified. Mandarin speakers can employ duration contrast to distinguish fake geminates and corresponding singletons; furthermore, the processing of fake concatenated geminates in contrast to singletons is similar to that of real geminates and corresponding singletons.

Neuropsychologia, 163(1)


  • Mandarin speakers use durational cues to differentiate fake geminate/singleton contrast.

  • The contrast is represented asymmetrically with a geminate specified for its length with a mora while a singleton is not.

  • Asymmetric processing pattern between fake geminate/singleton contrast was found for word pairs with different tones.