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Understanding prosody: Pauses, pitch accents, and processing

Dr. Duane Watson

Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

University of Rochester, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences

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�Traditionally, psycholinguists have investigated the processes that underlie language production and the processes that underlie language comprehension separately. A challenge for the field is to map out the ways in which the processes underlying production and comprehension interact (MacDonald, 1998). In this talk, I will discuss work investigating this interaction within the domain of prosody, focusing on two areas: 1) intonational boundaries (i.e. pauses) and 2) pitch accents. In the first half of the talk, I will present data that suggest that speakers place pauses at points in a sentence where processing demands are highest: before and after long constituents. Furthermore, listeners are sensitive to this implicit relationship between pauses and production when parsing a sentence, and interpret pauses as a signal that a syntactic constituent is coming to an end and a new one is beginning. In the second half of the talk, I will discuss my current work on pitch accents, which unlike pauses, appear to be driven by the speaker's need to explicitly convey information about topics under conversation to the listener. An ongoing debate in the field has been understanding whether there are different pitch accent types that differ in the type of information they convey (Ladd, 1996; Bartels & Kingston, 1994; Krhamer & Swerts, 2001). I will present evidence from an eye-tracking study that suggests that at least two accent types ("contrastive" accents and "presentational" accents) are interpreted differently by listeners in certain contexts.

Dr. Duane Watson