Intonational disambiguation in sentence production and comprehension.

Department of Linguistics, University of California at Los Angeles 90095-1543, USA.
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research (Impact Factor: 0.59). 04/2000; 29(2):169-82. DOI: 10.1023/A:1005192911512
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Speakers' prosodic marking of syntactic constituency is often measured in sentence reading tasks that lack realistic situational constraints on speaking. Results from such studies can be criticized because the pragmatic goals of readers differ dramatically from those of speakers in typical conversation. On the other hand, recordings of unscripted speech do not readily yield the carefully controlled contrasts required for many research purposes. Our research employs a cooperative game task, in which two speakers use utterances from a predetermined set to negotiate moves around gameboards. Results from a set of early versus late closure ambiguities suggest that speakers signal this syntactic difference with prosody even when the utterance context fully disambiguates the structure. Phonetic and phonological analyses show reliable prosodic disambiguation in speakers' productions; results of a comprehension task indicate that listeners can successfully use prosodic cues to categorize syntactically ambiguous fragments as portions of early or late closure utterances.

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