Pitch scaling and the perception of contrastive focus in L1 and L2 Spanish

Author(s): Covadonga Sánchez-Alvarado and Meghan E. Armstrong

Abstract

The pitch accent associated with contrast in English and in Spanish is labeled as L+H* in their respective ToBI labeling systems. Nevertheless, the phonetic implementation of these categories differs, since a wider pitch range is needed in American English to consider a rising tonal movement as L+H*. This study explores the differences between American English and Peninsular Spanish in their use of F0 scaling as a cue to perceiving contrast or lack thereof in nuclear position. Following the predictions of the L2 intonation learning theory (LILt), the hypothesis guiding this study was that Spanish speakers would perceive contrast within a more compressed pitch range than learners of Spanish with American English as their L1. Fourteen native speakers of Spanish and fourteen learners enrolled in a Spanish phonetics class at a U.S. university participated in a forced-choice identification task. The stimuli consisted of manipulations of two utterances produced by native speakers of Peninsular Spanish, expressing contrastive focus; tonal landmarks outside of the focused word were neutralized, and seven-step continua were created manipulating only the height of the peak in the nuclear accent. The results indicate that pitch range is used similarly by native speakers and learners of Spanish.

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