Categorical perception and prenuclear pitch peak alignment in Spanish

Author(s): Germán Zárate-Sández

Abstract

Most dialects of Spanish seem to produce prenuclear pitch peaks displaced to the right of the stressed syllable in neutral declarative utterances. In Autosegmental-Metrical phonology, this delayed peak has usually been described as a L*+H pitch accent. Since evidence for this observation comes almost exclusively from production studies, the purpose of this paper was to investigate how Spanish speakers perceive prenuclear pitch alignment. Perception was tested using an imitation task aimed at capturing categorical effects (or lack thereof) in the perception of intonation. The stimuli consisted of the utterance “La nena lloraba” [“The girl was crying”], where the prenuclear pitch peak in “nena” was displaced 10 times in 25-millisecond increments. Seventeen native speakers of Spanish listened to the 10 resynthesized utterances and were asked to imitate each stimulus while being recorded. Resulting utterances were normalized for speech rate and analyzed acoustically for prenuclear pitch alignment. Data yielded a clear categorical perception effect, but did not necessarily lend support to a pitch accent with a delayed peak. The discussion addresses phonological representations of tonal events and the link between production and perception in prosody.

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