Intonation in the processing of contrast meaning in French: An eye-tracking study

Author(s): Núria Esteve-Gibert, Cristel Portes, Amy Schafer, Barbara Hemforth and Mariapaola D'Imperio


Listeners rapidly process tonal composition and pitch accent placement within an utterance to create expectations about its pragmatic meaning and information structure. It is still unknown whether the nuclear pitch accent alone or a combination of pitch accent and the following edge tone are needed in order to process intonational meaning in French. This study investigates the online comprehension of the French (L)H*L% rise-fall “implication” contour, which evokes a contrast meaning. Twenty-nine speakers participated in an eye-tracking experiment. The critical stimuli were sentences whose interpretation could be anticipated by successfully processing the implied meaning evoked by the (L)H*L% rise-fall contour on the critical word (hereafter CW). The results showed that participants are able to associate the implication contour with a contrast meaning, and that they start doing this only after the H* peak of the rise-fall intonation movement has been processed, hence when part of the L% falling movement has been perceived.


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