• Stefan Baumann

    University of Cologne, Germany

    Are highlighted words always informative?
    On the complex relationship between prosodic prominence and meaning


    When speakers communicate with each other, relevant parts of an utterance may either be actively highlighted through prosodic and syntactic means, or they are informative in themselves, such as novel or important discourse topics and uncommon words. As a result of both prosodic and syntactic highlighting and semantic-pragmatic informativeness, listeners perceive certain elements of an utterance as more or less prominent.
    The talk will examine the basic assumption that there is a direct correspondence between the two levels, such that (prosodically) highlighted elements should at the same time be more informative, and vice versa. This relationship has been shown to be much more complex, however, given the multidimensionality of form-related and meaning-related cues. In fact, an appropriate description of the relation between prosodic prominence and informativeness is probabilistic in nature and has to account for factors as diverse as the rhythmical structure and relativity of prominences within utterances, listener expectations as well as speaker and listener variability including the influence of speaking style and other aspects pertaining to the type of situation.
     

    • 14:00:00 - 08-12-2021

      When speakers communicate with each other, relevant parts of an utterance may either be actively highlighted through prosodic and syntactic means, or they are informative in themselves, such as novel discourse topics and uncommon words. As a result of both prosodic and syntactic highlighting and semantic-pragmatic informativeness, listeners perceive certain utterance parts as more or less prominent.
      Highlighting is, next to phrasing, the basic task of prosody determining the meaning of an utterance at a mediating level of interpretation. Prosody operates on many different levels of linguistic description (e.g. expressing information structure) and may use both discrete (such as pitch accent types) and gradient means (including pitch movement, loudness, duration and voice quality) to a varying extent. Nevertheless, the production and perception of prominence is an interplay of multiple cues, including the speaker’s choice of words and their lexical as well as discourse-pragmatic properties or the syntactic construction the word occurs in. These different cues may interact in complex ways, and they may have different effects on different listeners.
      The talk will discuss results from various production studies, appropriateness and prominence ratings as well as neurolinguistic experiments in order to view the relation between prosodic prominence marking and (other) linguistic functions from different perspectives.

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