Epistemic and attitudinal meanings of rise and rise-plateau contours

Author(s): Joseph Tyler and Rachel Steindel Burdin

Abstract

This paper investigates the epistemic and attitudinal meanings of rise and rise-plateau contours in listing contexts. Previous accounts of list intonation have made claims about epistemic meanings for list intonation, though without experimental evidence. In our first study, a metalinguistic task, subjects perceived rise and rise-plateau contours in listing contexts as having epistemic but also attitudinal meanings. In our second study, participants interpreted rises and rise-plateaus differently in terms of what the speaker thinks the listener knows: the rise- plateau was perceived as the speaker thinking that the listener already knows the items in the list, while the rise was perceived as the speaker thinking that the listener does not know the items in the list. In the third study, we manipulated whether the speaker did or did not think the listener already knew the list items to see if this manipulation would affect the attitudinal meanings described in the metalinguistic tasks. While this context manipulation did not interact with contour type in predicting attitudinal meanings, subjects did perceive the rise-plateau contour as more condescending, and less helpful, than the rise contour. In addition, the male speaker was rated as sounding more condescending, and less helpful, than the female speaker.

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