On the intonation of French wh-in-situ questions: What happens before the wh-word is reached?

Author(s): Stella Gryllia, Lisa Lai-Shen Cheng and Jenny Doetjes


Previous studies on the intonation of wh-in-situ questions in French have focused mainly on the utterance final movement and ignored the prosodic properties of the region preceding the wh-constituent. Yet, these latter properties are particularly interesting from a processing perspective, as they may help the listener anticipate a question before the wh-word is reached, which might facilitate parsing. In this paper we present the results of a production experiment testing the hypothesis that the prosodic properties of wh-in-situ questions differ from the prosodic properties of their declarative counterparts. The results of the production experiment verified this hypothesis. The subject and the first syllables of the verb are significantly shorter in wh-in-situ questions than in declaratives, while the last syllable of the verb is lengthened in questions. Moreover, we found that the first syllable of the wh-word systematically bears an emphatic accent or C-accent (Rossi 1985, Beyssade et al. 2004). This leads to the hypothesis that the prosodic differences on the syllables preceding the wh-word could well be a side effect of the presence of a C-accent on the wh-word.