You are here: Home Publications Marked initial pitch in questions signals marked communicative function

Marked initial pitch in questions signals marked communicative function

Sicoli, M. A., Stivers, T., Enfield, N. J., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Marked initial pitch in questions signals marked communicative function. Language and Speech, 58(2), 204-223. doi:10.1177/0023830914529247.
In conversation, the initial pitch of an utterance can provide an early phonetic cue of the communicative function, the speech act, or the social action being implemented. We conducted quantitative acoustic measurements and statistical analyses of pitch in over 10,000 utterances, including 2512 questions, their responses, and about 5000 other utterances by 180 total speakers from a corpus of 70 natural conversations in 10 languages. We measured pitch at first prominence in a speaker’s utterance and discriminated utterances by language, speaker, gender, question form, and what social action is achieved by the speaker’s turn. Through applying multivariate logistic regression we found that initial pitch that significantly deviated from the speaker’s median pitch level was predictive of the social action of the question. In questions designed to solicit agreement with an evaluation rather than information, pitch was divergent from a speaker’s median predictably in the top 10% of a speakers range. This latter finding reveals a kind of iconicity in the relationship between prosody and social action in which a marked pitch correlates with a marked social action. Thus, we argue that speakers rely on pitch to provide an early signal for recipients that the question is not to be interpreted through its literal semantics but rather through an inference.
About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.

 

Street address
Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands


Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:   +31-24-3521911
Fax:        +31-24-3521213
E-mail:   


Public Outreach Officer
Charlotte Horn