Two new papers from Speech Prosody conference

Two new papers by McGill Linguistics coauthors were published in the proceedings of this years Speech Prosody Conference, held May 25 to August 31, 2020. Videos from the talks can still be found on the conference website.

Gibson, Emma, Francisco Torreira, and Michael Wagner. (2020). The high-fall contour in North American English: A case study in imperatives. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020.
Abstract: Imperatives are often uttered with a standard declarative falling contour. However, there are several claims that they can be pronounced with different tunes, leading to different illocutionary as well as attitudinal import. In this paper, we investigate one such tune, which we categorize as the “high-fall contour” and can be described as a nuclear high accent that is often scaled higher (or ‘upstepped’) compared to earlier accents. We show that it is used in the context of “weak” (suggestion-like) and “repeated” or “redundant” imperatives. The “weak” usage of the high-fall seems contradictory in pragmatic flavour to its use in repetitions, which usually sound like definite commands and not suggestions. We test for whether these uses may be distinguishable based on prenuclear patterns, as has been suggested in prior literature, and ultimately do not find evidence to suggest the tunes are distinct. We also observe that, surprisingly, imperative repetition leads to a lengthening of duration.
Martens, Gouming, Francisco Torreira, and Michael Wagner. (2020). Hat contour in Dutch: Form and function. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020.
Abstract: The hat contour is an intonation pattern which starts with a rise and ends in a fall. Although most researchers agree that it consists of a rise and fall, there is little consensus about the actual phonological form of this contour. Consequently, theories about the meaning of the hat pattern are very diverse as well.

The current research attempts at gaining a better understanding of the relationship between the form and meaning of one specific hat contour in Dutch: Something we will refer to as the early-fall hat contour. We will test the hypothesis that an early fall encodes the presupposition that there are true alternatives to the asserted proposition.An online rating experiment was set up in which stimuli were manipulated for the timing of the fall (early fall vs. late fall) and the availability of alternative propositions. The results show that as predicted, an early-fall is less acceptable when all alternatives are ruled out than a late fall. Moreover, an early fall is preferred when there are true alternatives, which interprets as an effect of Maximize Presupposition. The effects are very small however, suggesting that more research is needed to understand these effects better. Index Terms: alternative propositions, hat contour, intonational meaning, maximize presupposition.

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