Pitch accents show a perceptual magnet effect: Evidence of internal structure in intonation categories

Author(s): Joe Rodd and Aoju Chen


The question of whether intonation events have a categorical mental representation has long been a puzzle in prosodic research, and one that experiments testing production and perception across category boundaries have failed to definitively resolve. This paper takes the alternative approach of looking for evidence of structure within a postulated category by testing for a Perceptual Magnet Effect (PME). PME has been found in boundary tones but has not previously been conclusively found in pitch accents. In this investigation, perceived goodness and discriminability of re-synthesised Dutch nuclear rise contours (L*H H%) were evaluated by naive native speakers of Dutch. The variation between these stimuli was quantified using a polynomial-parametric modelling approach (i.e. the SOCoPaSul model) in place of the traditional approach whereby excursion size, peak alignment and pitch register are used independently of each other to quantify variation between pitch accents. Using this approach to calculate the acoustic-perceptual distance between different stimuli, PME was detected: (1) rated “goodness” decreased as acoustic-perceptual distance relative to the prototype increased, and (2) equally spaced items far from the prototype were less frequently generalised than equally spaced items in the neighbourhood of the prototype. These results support the concept of categorically distinct intonation events.


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