Language-specific knowledge and syllable structure effects in the perception of tonal contrast

Mariapaola D'Imperio 1
1 PAROLE - Analysis, perception and recognition of speech
INRIA Lorraine, LORIA - Laboratoire Lorrain de Recherche en Informatique et ses Applications
Abstract : Studies of prosody show that listeners are quite sensitive to the speech rhythms specific to their native languages. Most of these studies, however, concentrate on the rhythm of consonants and vowels in sequence. Recent work on intonational phonology has begun to address another important area of cross-language rhythmic differences -- namely, the temporal alignment of intonation contours relative to consonants and vowels at relevant anchorings points such as stressed syllables. The first hypothesis tested in this study was that American English listeners would be able to perceive the contrast between two Neapolitan Italian pitch accents. Both American English and Neapolitan Italian have two rising accents (L+H* and L*+H) whose alignment is contrastive, though the details of their implementation differs. The accents also cue different pragmatic functions (e.g., cueing the question/statement contrast only in Neapolitan) and are subject to different syntagmatic constraints. The second hypothesis was that listeners will respond similarly to a linguistic task and a psychoacoustic task based on the same set of stimuli. The alignment, peak shape and scaling of a rise-fall tonal sequence within a Neapolitan question (with a L*+H accent) was manipulated through PSOLA. The stimuli thus obtained were employed in an question/statement identification test (linguistic task) with both Neapolitan and American English listeners. The results of the linguistic task were similar for the two groups, though the location of the crossover boundary was different. However, when the same stimuli had to be identified in terms of a psychoacoustic property, the American results were at chance level. Also, by modifying the shape of the peak within the rise-fall I obtained different identification scores. That is, when the accent peak was shaped as a pitch plateau, more question responses were obtained. This phenomenon cannot be explained in terms of language-specific constraints on prosodic parsing, since it was found for both the Italian and the American listeners. This suggests that the observed effect is psychoacoustic in nature and is potentially cross-linguistically shared. In another experiment, the syllable structure of the base stimuli was manipulated, so that the alignment continuum was accompanied either by a closed or an open syllable target word (e.g., "nono" ninth vs. "nonno" grandfather). The hypothesis tested was that the syllable structure of the base utterance would affect pitch-accent identification. Twenty-nine Neapolitan listeners performed a question/statement identification task. While on the one hand the syllable structure manipulation was not able to shift the crossover boundary between questions and statements, the overall pattern of results is quite difficult to interpret. This is because, despite of the lack of a crossover boundary shift, the response curves for the open and closed syllable continua for the statement modality were different (while the question curves were not). These results suggest a complex interplay between different linguistic modules in the recovery of pragmatic meaning. That is, if alignment is part of the phonological representation of a tonal category, and if this representation is paramount in the recovery of pragmatic meaning, then a direct link between phonology and pragmatics must be postulated. Also, if phonological length affects the phonetic detail of tonal alignment, it is plausible that alignment patterns might facilitate lexical access for words sharing a given length contrast. To sum up, this study suggests that phonetic details of alignment are part of the phonological knowledge of native speakers and can influence pragmatic interpretation. Also, despite acoustic and pragmatic differences results of the linguistic task were similar for the two groups, though the location of the crossover boundary was different. However, when the same stimuli had to be identified in terms of a psychoacoustic property, the American results were at chance level. Also, by modifying the shape of the peak within the rise-fall I obtained different identification scores. That is, when the accent peak was shaped as a pitch plateau, more question responses were obtained. This phenomenon cannot be explained in terms of language-specific constraints on prosodic parsing, since it was found for both the Italian and the American listeners. This suggests that the observed effect is psychoacoustic in nature and is potentially cross-linguistically shared. In another experiment, the syllable structure of the base stimuli was manipulated, so that the alignment continuum was accompanied either by a closed or an open syllable target word (e.g., "nono" ninth vs. "nonno" grandfather). The hypothesis tested was that the syllable structure of the base utterance would affect pitch-accent identification. Twenty-nine Neapolitan listeners performed a question/statement identification task. While on the one hand the syllable structure manipulation was not able to shift the crossover boundary between questions and statements, the overall pattern of results is quite difficult to interpret. This is because, despite of the lack of a crossover boundary shift, the response curves for the open and closed syllable continua for the statement modality were different (while the question curves were not). These results suggest a complex interplay between different linguistic modules in the recovery of pragmatic meaning. That is, if alignment is part of the phonological representation of a tonal category, and if this representation is paramount in the recovery of pragmatic meaning, then a direct link between phonology and pragmatics must be postulated. Also, if phonological length affects the phonetic detail of tonal alignment, it is plausible that alignment patterns might facilitate lexical access for words sharing a given length contrast. To sum up, this study suggests that phonetic details of alignment are part of the phonological knowledge of native speakers and can influence pragmatic interpretation. Also, despite acoustic and pragmatic differences between their rise-fall contrasts, American and Neapolitan listeners appear to employ similar perceptual strategies in tonal pattern identification.
Type de document :
Communication dans un congrès
Invited Talk, 2001, Max Plank Institut for Psycholinguistics, 2001
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Soumis le : mardi 26 septembre 2006 - 14:46:15
Dernière modification le : jeudi 11 janvier 2018 - 06:19:55

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Mariapaola D'Imperio. Language-specific knowledge and syllable structure effects in the perception of tonal contrast. Invited Talk, 2001, Max Plank Institut for Psycholinguistics, 2001. 〈inria-00100494〉

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