Pitch accents in context: How listeners process accentuation in referential communication
Bögels, S., Schriefers, H., Vonk, W., & Chwilla, D.
Pitch accents in context: How listeners process accentuation in referential communication. Neuropsychologia, 49
, 2022-2036. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.03.032.
We investigated whether listeners are sensitive to (mis)matching accentuation patterns with respect to contrasts in the linguistic and visual context, using Event-Related Potentials. We presented participants with displays of two pictures followed by a spoken reference to one of these pictures (e.g., “the red ball”). The referent was contrastive with respect to the linguistic context (utterance in the previous trial: e.g., “the blue ball”) or with respect to the visual context (other picture in the display; e.g., a display with a red ball and a blue ball). The spoken reference carried a pitch accent on the noun (“the red BALL”) or on the adjective (“the RED ball”), or an intermediate (‘neutral’) accentuation. For the linguistic context, we found evidence for the Missing Accent Hypothesis: Listeners showed processing difficulties, in the form of increased negativities in the ERPs, for missing accents, but not for superfluous accents. ‘Neutral’ or intermediate accents were interpreted as ‘missing’ accents when they occurred late in the referential utterance, but not when they occurred early. For the visual context, we found evidence for the Missing Accent Hypothesis for a missing accent on the adjective (an increase in negativity in the ERPs) and a superfluous accent on the noun (no effect). However, a redundant color adjective (e.g., in the case of a display with a red ball and a red hat) led to less processing problems when the adjective carried a pitch accent.
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