Word final schwa is driven by intonation – the case of Bari Italian

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Description: Abstract: In order to convey pragmatic functions, a speaker has to select an intonation contour (the tune) in addition to the words that are to be spoken (the text). The tune and text are assumed to be independent of each other, such that any one intonation contour can be produced on different phrases, regardless of the number and nature of the segments they are made up of. However, if the segmental string is too short, certain tunes – especially those with a rising component – call for adjustments to the text. In Italian, for instance, loan words such as “chat” can be produced with a word final schwa when this word occurs at the end of a question. This paper investigates this word final schwa in the Bari variety in a number of different intonation contours. Although its presence and duration is to some extent dependent on idiosyncratic properties of speakers and words, schwa is largely conditioned by intonation. Schwa cannot thus be considered a mere phonetic artefact, since it is relevant for phonology, in that it facilitates the production of com-municatively relevant intonation contours.

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