Prosodic and syntactic structures in spontaneous English speech

Author(s): Anna Dannenberg, Stefan Werner and Martti Vainio


In this paper we examine prosodic and syntactic structures of spontaneous English speech. By wavelet-based analysis, the prosodic structure of speech can be visually represented as a tree diagram. Combined with automatic syntactic parsing, this enables a novel method to compare prosodic and syntactic hierarchical structures in spoken language.In our research we segmented a sample of spontaneous American English speech prosodically and syntactically and produced tree diagrams of both prosodic and syntactic structures, automatizing the process as completely as possible. The demarcation and internal structure of both kinds of segments were then analyzed in various respects.The results indicate significant differences in prosodic and syntactic structures of spontaneous speech. The most notable divergence is in the predominant direction of branching: syntactic trees of spoken English language tend to be mainly right-branching, whereas in prosodic trees left- and right-branching structures alternate. The typical positions of prosodic and syntactic boundaries in spontaneous English speech also differ considerably from each other. It thus seems that prosodic and syntactic structures of spontaneous speech mostly follow different patterns in their appearance and probably also in their formation.