Mapping prosody onto meaning - the case of information structure in American English

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Description: Abstract: Prosody is a central part of human speech, with prosodic modulations of the signal expressing important communicative functions such as the structuring of information in an utterance. Yet, the exact mechanisms of how listeners map prosodic aspects of the speech signal onto speaker-intended discourse functions are only poorly understood and previous experimental work yields inconclusive results. Here we present three perception experiments with American English listeners that test the mapping between the prosodic form of a heard utterance and possible information structural categories (here: focus and givenness) determined by a discourse context. Results suggest a high degree of overlap in the pairing of prosodic form and information structure categories, with varying degrees of accuracy dependent on the specific information structure categories that are presented to the listener in the experiment (the target and the competitor). Our data also suggest that listeners are sometimes (a) biased towards certain commonly used discourse contexts and (b) biased against less common contexts. These biases are compatible with the idea that listeners infer speaker intentions not only based on bottom-up processing of acoustic prosodic cues but also taking into account probabilistic knowledge about the likelihood of prosodic forms and their expected co-occurrence with specific discourse contexts.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International


Project content: Analysis This folder contains two R scripts that generate Bayesian models, plots and tables presented in the manuscript. The folder also contains the Bayesian model information stored as .RData files. Data This folder contains two data tables as .csv files that function as the input of the analyses. Acoustic Analysis This folder contains data tables that are used to generate the s...


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