A fine-grained analysis of the acoustic cues involved in verbal irony recognition in French

Author(s): Santiago González-Fuente, Pilar Prieto and Ira Noveck


Research on verbal irony has found that prosodic features such as pitch range expansion, syllable lengthening, and specific intonational contours are common prosodic resources that languages use to mark irony in speech. Yet little is known about the relative weight of these prosodic features in the detection of irony in languages that use all three of these prosodic correlates. In this paper we present the results of two experiments designed to shed light on the relative contribution of the acoustic cues involved in verbal irony detection. The first experiment confirmed that these three prosodic features revealed themselves when readers produced a just read ironic utterance as opposed to a literal one. In the second experiment (an auditory perception task), 101 French native speakers were presented with different context-utterance pairs. The final word in these utterances was manipulated synthetically so as to create five experimental conditions: Not_Modified, Modified_Pitch_Range, Modified_Duration, Modified_Intonation, and Modified_All. Results showed that (a) speakers tended to interpret utterances as ironic when all acoustic modifications (i.e. pitch-range expansion, syllable lengthening, and marked intonation) were presented together (i.e. Modified_All); and (b) the Modified_Duration and Modified_Intonation conditions were significantly more likely to encourage ironic readings than the Not_Modified and Modified_Pitch_Range conditions.


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