Understandable misstatements lead to gentle corrections: Prosodic realization of epistemic gaps

Author(s): Iris Chuoying Ouyang and Elsi Kaiser


Research has shown that corrective information is produced with higher prosodic prominence than non-corrective information. However, it remains unclear how corrective prosody is realized in different communicative settings. We conducted two production experiments to investigate whether interlocutors’ prosodic realization of corrective focus depends on each other’s knowledge state. Participants carried out a statement-response task in pairs (e.g. A: “Tina ate shrimp.” B: “No, she ate beef.”). We manipulated whether A’s statement was implausible given the context (e.g. Tina in fact hates seafood). Furthermore, the two experiments differed in whether A knew the plausibility of his or her statement. In Exp.1, both speakers had access to the crucial context (i.e. Tina’s preferences about food). In Exp.2, only B had access to this background information. Mixed-effects models were fit on the f0 ranges of target words in B’s responses. We found that the prosody of B’s responses was influenced by both (i) the contextual plausibility of A’s statements and (ii) A’s knowledge (or lack thereof) about the contextual plausibility. We present an analysis where the prosodic prominence associated with corrective information reflects the gap between what participants had expected their conversational partner to know and what their conversational partner appeared to know.