Conventions in prosody for affective meanings: Non-canonical terminal contours in English polar interrogatives

Author(s): Sunwoo Jeong


This paper investigates how prosody may work to signal discourse related speech acts on the one hand, and speaker related affective meanings on the other, highlighting the potential connection between the two types of meanings. Focusing on the intonation of English polar interrogatives, the paper reports on a perception experiment that used stimuli manipulated in terminal contours (rising, level, and falling) and embedded in different contexts. The results suggest that different terminal contours in yes-no questions reliably signal different types of affective meanings, and also, to a certain degree, different speech acts that are closely related to the respective affective meanings. Importantly, the results also show that the effect of prosody on speech acts holds only for pragmatically felicitous contexts, whereas the effect of prosody on affective meanings persists across different pragmatic contexts. These data support the claim that there is a stable convention for the association between prosody and affective meanings, crucially in conjunction with the sentence type.


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