Tag Archives: Prosody

LingLang Lunch (10/24/2018): Kyuwon Moon

Kyuwon Moon received Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford and is currently an independent scholar. She is interested in the effect of social factors on linguistic variation and specifically prosodic variation. For more information, her website is here.

Feminine voice in workplace: phonetic variation in Seoul women’s speech

This talk explores the role of “feminine voice” in workplace, in contrast to speech in non-work-related settings. While young women’s sweet, friendly voice has always been valued in service industry, it is even more salient in the post-Fordist market of South Korea, where customers are kings. Young female professionals use their polite voices and feminine charms known as aegyo—a term for a manipulated cute and pleasing attitude—as linguistic commodities and construct a “compliant and professional” persona to balance professionalism and femininity.

Based on the data collected from fieldwork in a call center in Seoul, South Korea, I examine the use of two prominent phonetic variables—raising of (o) and LHL% (rising-falling tone in Intonation Phrase final position)—by young female consultants. The acoustic and experimental analysis focus on the stylistic use of these variables on Intonation Phrase (IP) final position, a focal site of prosodic/grammatical structure and pragmatic meaning in Seoul Korean. This talk thus reveals social meanings of phonetic properties of variables, and argues for the necessity of investigating a prominent language-specific site of variation.

LingLang Lunch (10/10/2012): Junwen Lee (Brown University)

A Unitary Analysis of Colloquial Singapore English Lah

The linguistic function of the Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) particle lah has been characterized variously as a marker to convey solidarity, warmth and informality; an attenuation or emphasis marker; an assertion marker; and an accommodation marker. As the particle can be pronounced using several pitch contours, the particle has generally been analyzed as either a set of homonymic variants that are distinguished by pitch and function, or a unitary particle that has the same meaning despite tonal differences. However, I argue against both approaches – the former conflates pragmatic function and semantic meaning, while the latter ignores the systematic differences in function that correlate with tonal differences. Instead, using a relevance-theoretic framework, I propose that the different pragmatic functions of lah result from the interaction between its unitary semantic meaning and the effect of pitch as signals of modality, specifically a falling tone that marks declaratives/imperatives and a rising tone that marks interrogatives. The advantages of this approach are also discussed in relation to another CSE particle hor, which similarly differs in pragmatic function depending on whether it is pronounced with a falling or rising tone.

LingLang Lunch (4/30/2014): Jill Thorson (Brown University)

How intonation interacts with new and given information to guide attention

Toddlers are sensitive to native language rhythm and pitch patterns. From the beginnings of production, they approximate adult-like intonation contours and align them with appropriate semantic/pragmatic intentions. The motivation for our study is to investigate how English-acquiring 18-month-olds are guided by mappings from intonation to information structure during on-line reference resolution in a discourse. We ask whether specific pitch movements (deaccented/monotonal/bitonal) more systematically predict patterns of attention depending on the referring condition (new/given). Additionally, this experiment isolates the role of pitch in directing attention, keeping duration and intensity constant across conditions. Contrary to previous work, results show longer looking times to the target over a distractor in the deaccented condition if the referent is new to the discourse but not if it is given. Also, the bitonal pitch movement directs attention to the target even when it is given in the discourse. Thus, pitch type is interacting with new and given information in directing toddler attention. Analyzing how higher-level components combine to direct attention to a referent during discourse aids in explaining the mechanisms that are important for language and word learning.

LingLang Lunch (11/5/2014): Chigusa Kurumada (University of Rochester)

Expectation-adaptation in the incremental interpretation of English contrastive prosody (In collaboration with Meredith Brown, Tufts University/Massachusetts General Hospital, and Michael K. Tanenhaus, University of Rochester)

The realization of prosody varies across speakers, accents, and speech conditions (e.g., Ladd, 2008). Listeners must navigate this variability to converge on consistent prosodic interpretations. We investigate whether listeners adapt to speaker-specific realization of prosody based on recent exposure and, if so, whether such adaptation is rapidly integrated with online pragmatic processing. To this end, we investigate contrastive focus, which can signal that pragmatic inference is required to determine speaker meaning (e.g., Ito & Speer, 2008; Pierrehumbert & Hirschberg, 1990; Watson et al., 2008).

In this talk, I first present results of an off-line judgement experiment using a paradigm developed to investigate implicit learning in phoneme categorization (e.g., Kraljic, Samuel & Brennan, 2008; Norris, McQueen & Cutler, 2003). The results suggest that listeners rapidly adapt their pragmatic interpretation of contrastive focus to best reflect speaker-specific realizations of prosodic cues (e.g., pitch and segment duration). I then discuss results from two eye-tracking experiments. We find that changes in the reliability of prosodic cues (estimated based on recent exposure) are reflected in changes in processing time-course: When a contrastive focus is deemed unreliable as a cue to a contrastive interpretation, listeners effectively down-weight it in their comprehension of following utterances. We conclude that such rapid recalibration of prosodic interpretations enables listeners to achieve robust online pragmatic interpretation of highly variable prosodic information.

LingLang Lunch (4/4/2018): Meghan Armstrong (UMass Amherst)

Meghan Armstrong is an Assistant Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her main line of research deals with intonational development. Her current work deals with how epistemic meaning is encoded intonationally. For more information, her website is here.

Children’s detection of epistemic strength distinctions through prosody and the lexicon

Children make great strides in their comprehension of strength distinctions for epistemic modal verbs between the ages of 4 and 6 (Papafragou, 1998). However, while strength distinctions like might/will are lexicalized, the epistemic strength of mid-scalar epistemic modal verbs can also be modulated prosodically allowing a speaker to either highlight that something is quite likely, or highlight that something is less likely. While prosody is extremely important for development during the first year, it has been shown that as children’s receptive vocabulary increases they begin to pay extra attention to lexical information, perhaps at the expense of prosody (Friend 2001). For mental state verbs like think/know, Moore, Harris & Patriquin (1993) found that 4- and 5-year-olds were more successful at using these verbs for inferring degree of certainty than they were at using prosody (rising vs. falling) with no lexical indicators of mental states. Here we ask whether a lexical advantage can also be found for the case of epistemic modal verbs.
In our task children saw, on a Powerpoint presentation, a set of twins and their mutual friend, who was having a birthday party. For each trial, children were told that the friend either wanted something (e.g. a football – positive valence) or did not want something (e.g. socks – negative valence). The friend was asking the twins whether or not they would give him/her that thing for his/her birthday. Each twin responded with pre-recorded epistemic modal expressions differing in strength. The might/will contrast was used for the lexical condition (e.g. I will/might give you a football), while in the prosody condition epistemic strength of the verb might was modulated by one of two intonational contours conveying stronger vs. weaker epistemic strength, along with pitch range differences (wide for stronger and compressed for weaker). Children had to decide which twin the friend would want to come to his/her birthday party, based on what each twin said. Sixty monolingual American English-speaking children, aged 3-7, participated. There were 12 trials with two blocks, one for positive valence and the other for negative, with one familiarization trial for each block. The results show that the youngest children in the study show an emerging ability to detect modal strength through lexical items but perform at chance levels for the prosodic condition. They get increasingly better at both conditions between the ages of 4 and 5, but with a clear advantage for the lexical condition. This advantage disappears by 6 years old, with 6- and 7-year-olds performing at ceiling. The findings echo prior studies on children’s detection of distinctions in modal strength, with detection of certainty through prosody lagging behind. Results suggest that prosodic meaning may take a “backseat” to lexical meaning in the preschool years, but this effect disappears by early school age. The findings also suggest that prosodic information can generate a pragmatic implicature (in this case the directionality of the meaning of the word might), which makes a child’s pragmatic development important for understanding their prosodic development. Implications for prosodic acquisition are discussed.