Rhythmic grouping in English, Greek and Korean: Testing the iambic-trochaic law

Author(s): Hae-Sung Jeon and Amalia Arvaniti


The iambic-trochaic law (ITL) states that a louder sound signals the beginning of a group, while a longer sound signals its end. Although the ITL has been empirically supported in experiments with a variety of stimuli, it is not clear whether it is due to universal cognitive mechanisms or the outcome of language-specific prosodic properties. We tested the law with speakers of English, Greek and Korean who heard sequences of tones varied in duration and/or intensity. The results revealed neither significant differences among languages nor a strong bias shared by speakers of all languages. Significantly, listeners’ grouping preferences were influenced by the duration of the inter-stimulus interval (ISI), with longer ISI resulting in stronger trochaic preferences, indicating that specific experimental conditions may be responsible for differences in listener responses across experiments testing the ITL.