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English H* and L+H* indicate new and contrastive information respectively, though some argue the difference between them is solely one of phonetic emphasis. We used (modified) Rapid Prosody Transcription to test these views. Forty-seven speakers of Standard Southern British English (SSBE) listened to 86 SSBE utterances and marked the words they considered prominent or emphatic. Accents (N = 281) were independently coded as H* or L+H* using phonetic criteria, and as contrastive or non-contrastive using pragmatic criteria. If L+H* is an emphatic H*, all L+H*s should be more prominent than H*s. If the accents mark pragmatic information, contrastivity should drive responses. Contrastive accents and L+H*s were considered more prominent than non-contrastive accents and H*s respectively. Individual responses showed different strategies: for some participants, all L+H*s were more prominent than H*s, for others, contrastive accents were more prominent than non-contrastive accents, and for still others, there was no difference between categories. These results indicate that a reason for the continuing debate about English H* and L+H* may be that the two accents form a weak contrast which some speakers acquire and attend to while others do not.
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