The role of pitch accent type in interpreting information status

Chen, A., & De Ruiter, J. P. (2005). The role of pitch accent type in interpreting information status. Proceedings from the Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, 41(1), 33-48.
The present study set out to pin down the role of four pitch accents, fall (H*L), rise-fall (L*HL), rise (L*H), fall-rise (H*LH), as well as deaccentuation, in interpreting new vs. given information in British English by the eyetracking paradigm. The pitch accents in question were claimed to convey information status in theories of English intonational meaning. There is, however, no consensus on the postulated roles of these pitch accents. Results clearly show that pitch accent type can and does matter when interpreting information status. The effects can be reflected in the mean proportions of fixations to the competitor in a selected time window. These patterns are also present in proportions of fixations to the target but to a lesser extent. Interestingly, the effects of pitch accent types are also reflected in how fast the participants could adjust their decision as to which picture to move before the name of the picture was fully revealed. For example, when the competitor was a given entity, the proportion of fixations to the competitor increased initially in most accent conditions in the first as a result of subjects' bias towards a given entity, but started to decrease substantially earlier in the H*L condition than in the L*H and deaccentuation conditions.
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