Learning of adjectival word meaning through tone of voice [Abstract]

Jesse, A., Reinisch, E., & Nygaard, L. C. (2010). Learning of adjectival word meaning through tone of voice [Abstract]. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 128, 2475.
Speakers express word meaning through systematic but non-canonical acoustic variation of tone of voice (ToV), i.e., variation of speaking rate, pitch, vocal effort, or loudness. Words are, for example, pronounced at a higher pitch when referring to small than to big referents. In the present study, we examined whether listeners can use ToV to learn the meaning of novel adjectives (e.g., “blicket”). During training, participants heard sentences such as “Can you find the blicket one?” spoken with ToV representing hot-cold, strong-weak, and big-small. Participants’ eye movements to two simultaneously shown objects with properties representing the relevant two endpoints (e.g., an elephant and an ant for big-small) were monitored. Assignment of novel adjectives to endpoints was counterbalanced across participants. During test, participants heard the sentences spoken with a neutral ToV, while seeing old or novel picture pairs varying along the same dimensions (e.g., a truck and a car for big-small). Participants had to click on the adjective’s referent. As evident from eye movements, participants did not infer the intended meaning during first exposure, but learned the meaning with the help of ToV during training. At test listeners applied this knowledge to old and novel items even in the absence of informative ToV.
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