Effects of prosody in processing speaker commitment in French

Author(s): Caterina Petrone, Alessandra Lonobile, Christelle Zielinski and Kiwako Ito

Abstract

In French, an utterance-final fall is often associated to commitment on speaker’s behalf and it is typically used in assertions. Final rises and final rise-fall-rises signal that the speaker does not commit to the proposition of the sentence. Hence, they are often used to convey incredulity. This study tested whether listeners use earlier prosodic cues as well as the final contour in the sentences to achieve a pragmatic interpretation of an utterance. Sixteen Subject-Verb-Object sentences were presented as assertions and incredulity questions. Both prenuclear (e.g., expanded pitch range) and nuclear (e.g., final boundary tone) differentiated the intentions. Twenty-two listeners matched each auditory stimulus with one of the two facial expressions, while their eye movements were monitored. For assertions, listeners looked at the congruent picture only after listening to the whole sentence. However, for incredulity questions, anticipatory fixations to the referent picture gradually increased from the beginning of the sentence. The findings suggest that the interaction between prenuclear and nuclear contours in processing speaker commitment may vary across different tunes.

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