Acoustic Assessment of Tone Production of Prelingually-Deafened Mandarin-Speaking Children With Cochlear Implants

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Objective: The purpose of the present study was to investigate Mandarin tone production performance of prelingually deafened children with cochlear implants (CIs) using modified acoustic analyses and to evaluate the relationship between demographic factors of those CI children and their tone production ability. Methods: Two hundred seventy-eight prelingually deafened children with CIs and 173 age-matched normal-hearing (NH) children participated in the study. Thirty-six monosyllabic Mandarin Chinese words were recorded from each subject. The fundamental frequencies (F0) were extracted from the tone tokens. Two acoustic measures (i.e., differentiability and hit rate) were computed based on the F0 onset and offset values (i.e., the tone ellipses of the two-dimensional [2D] method) or the F0 onset, midpoint, and offset values (i.e., the tone ellipsoids of the 3D method). The correlations between the acoustic measures as well as between the methods were performed. The relationship between demographic factors and acoustic measures were also explored. Results: The children with CIs showed significantly poorer performance in tone differentiability and hit rate than the NH children. For both CI and NH groups, performance on the two acoustic measures was highly correlated with each other (r values: 0.895–0.961). The performance between the two methods (i.e., 2D and 3D methods) was also highly correlated (r values: 0.774–0.914). Age at implantation and duration of CI use showed a weak correlation with the scores of acoustic measures under both methods. These two factors jointly accounted for 15.4–18.9% of the total variance of tone production performance. Conclusion: There were significant deficits in tone production ability in most prelingually deafened children with CIs, even after prolonged use of the devices. The strong correlation between the two methods suggested that the simpler, 2D method seemed to be efficient in acoustic assessment for lexical tones in hearing-impaired children. Age at implantation and especially the duration of CI use were significant, although weak, predictors for tone development in pediatric CI users. Although a large part of tone production ability could not be attributed to these two factors, the results still encourage early implantation and continual CI use for better lexical tone development in Mandarin-speaking pediatric CI users.