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Prosody and cohesion in Ékegusií (Kisii) narrative

Realizations of prosody
pitch reset
intonational parallelism
intonational contour
Functions of Prosody
signals phonological structure
signals syntactic structure
signals discourse prominence
signals affect
abets information flow
Prosody as Cohesion
helps listeners to detect discourse boundaries, and the degree of
cohesion or discontinuity between successive utterances
structure (whether phonological or syntactic) is always cohesion-
This study shows how prosodic features are used by speakers to
lend cohesion to their discourse, by signaling the transitions from
one unit of discourse to the next, the relations that hold between
those units, and their relative prominence.
Background, Data & Methods
Ékegusií (Gusii, Kisii), Great Lakes Bantu, southwest Kenya
Endangered: ~600,000 speakers, few under 30 y.o.
24 folktales recorded near Kisii Town, Kenya, Summer 2014
Lexical database, with audio, ~14,000 words
Texts annotated for prosodic features listed above
Prosodic boundaries were not marked - just the features
The length of pauses helps structure the text into its narrative stages
Pauses (cont.)
the participants are introduced and given descriptions, topic-
comment style, each separated by a long pause
the complicating action is a sequence of utterances, where each
utterance correspond to one step in a sequence of events
each step in the complicating action is followed by a long pause,
creating a slower narrative pacing
pauses are extremely short during the movement toward the climax,
creating a rapid pacing
Speakers use pauses to structure texts into major narrative
sections, and control their pacing, thereby giving cohesion to each
Vowel Elision
Ékegusií typically elides vowels at word junctions
Sometimes elision fails to occur phrase-internally, creating minor
prosodic breaks
Vowel elision can be manipulated to create minor prosodic breaks even
without pause, most typically at the transition to reported speech, or to
demarcate distinct events in a rapid sequence.
Intonational Parallelism
Isotony or intonational parallelism is the realization of the same
intonational contour on separate, typically successive, stretches of
By repeating the same intonational contour across two stretches of
speech, the speaker highlights a similarity between them, whether in
form or semantic content.
Intonational Parallelism (cont.)
Pitch Reset
Problems determining pitch reset:
canonical cases of pitch reset are rare in the Ékegusií corpus
terminal contours or prosodic accent may interrupt declination trends
pitch may reset down rather than up
many utterances show a flat contour or even a gradual rise
reported speech consistency shows a higher register
Pitch reset is best understood as a more holistic property of how hearers
perceive phrases, abstracting away from the parts of the pitch contour
that are irrelevant to the overall trend.
Intonational Contour
Ékegusií has many types of intonational contours, each with a dedicated
function. Classifying these contours as simply H or L, or falling or rising,
fails to capture important differences between them. Some examples:
sharp terminal rise: backgrounding function, for conditionals, new
topics, and ‘when’-clauses
gradual terminal rise: continuing topic, more information to come
high level register: extended sequences of events
sharp fall to low register: conclusion of sequence of events
Speakers attend to the overall, conventionalized pattern of the
intonational contour, rather than individual pitch targets.
Each prosodic feature helps delineate units of discourse and convey their
relationship to the units around them. These features work in tandem to
create stronger or weaker breaks in the discourse, thereby creating
hierarchical prosodic structure.
The cohesive function of prosody in Ékegusií (Kisii) folktales
Daniel W. Hieber (University of California, Santa Barbara) ~
ACAL 48, Indiana University, March 30 - April 2, 2017. Research supported by NSF GRFP Grant No. 1144085.
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