The processing of linguistic prominence
Kember, H., Choi, J., Yu, J., & Cutler, A.
The processing of linguistic prominence. Language and Speech. Advance online publication
Prominence, the expression of informational weight within utterances, can be signaled by
prosodic highlighting (head-prominence, as in English) or by position (as in Korean edge-prominence).
Prominence confers processing advantages, even if conveyed only by discourse manipulations. Here
we compared processing of prominence in English and Korean, using a task that indexes processing
success, namely recognition memory. In each language, participants’ memory was tested for target
words heard in sentences in which they were prominent due to prosody, position, both or neither.
Prominence produced recall advantage, but the relative effects differed across language. For Korean
listeners the positional advantage was greater, but for English listeners prosodic and syntactic
prominence had equivalent and additive effects. In a further experiment semantic and phonological
foils tested depth of processing of the recall targets. Both foil types were correctly rejected,
suggesting that semantic processing had not reached the level at which word form was no longer
available. Together the results suggest that prominence processing is primarily driven by universal
effects of information structure; but language-specific differences in frequency of experience prompt
different relative advantages of prominence signal types. Processing efficiency increases in each case,
however, creating more accurate and more rapidly contactable memory representations.