The role of pitch accent in discourse construction
contrastive discourse relationships
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of Linguistics Honors Theses; 2007
This project investigates the role of intonation in creating a mental discourse structure. More specifically, it examines the effect of producing L+H* pitch accent, an expansion of the pitch of voice during the stressed syllable of a word, on discourse markers, short phrases that set relations between utterances in discourse. L+H* pitch accent often induces a contrastive interpretation regarding items in discourse (e.g., ‘Don’t hand me the blue pen, hand me the RED one.’), and it has been shown to lead to anticipatory processing of contrastive status. The hypothesis under investigation is that L+H* on a discourse marker induces a notion of contrast between the preceding and upcoming utterances, such that the locus of prosodic and informational prominence in an upcoming utterance mirrors that of the preceding utterance. In the experiment, participants were exposed to short discourses exhibiting systematically placed L+H* accents, and they were asked to continue the discourses as they saw fit. Preliminary analysis of continuations from twelve participants does not indicate that L+H* on discourse markers uniformly evokes contrast; however, there was an interesting interaction between the prosody of the preceding utterance and that of the discourse marker in guiding the production of contrastive information. When the subject of the preceding utterance was prosodically highlighted, participants produced a contrastive subject more often when the discourse marker exhibited L+H* than when it did not. However, when the direct object of the preceding utterance was prosodically highlighted, participants produced a contrastive object more often when the discourse marker did not exhibit L+H*. This thesis presents two possible accounts for this finding. In addition, it identifies a possible bias in the experimental design that made subject contrast more salient than object contrast as well as semantic baises for and against productions of contrast within some of the stimuli, and in doing so provides a basis for a future investigation of the role of L+H* in establishing contrastive relationships in discourse. Advisor: Dr. Kiwako Ito
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