Speech Prosody 2014

Listening for sound, listening for meaning: Task effects on prosodic transcription

Jennifer Cole, Tim Mahrt and Jose I. Hualde
The perception of prosodic structure (phrasal prominences and boundaries) may depend in part on acoustic information present in the signal and in part on meaning based on syntactic, semantic and pragmatic factors. Listeners may also be able to weigh acoustics and meaning to different degrees. We test naive subjects’ marking of prominences and boundaries in spontaneous American English under three different conditions, all of which involve listening to audio recordings and marking prominences and boundaries on a transcript. The three conditions differ in the instructions that transcribers were given. In one condition, subjects were instructed to transcribe prominence and boundaries based on meaning criteria, in a second condition they were told to transcribe based on criteria of acoustic salience. A third condition had more general instructions, without explicit reference to either meaning or acoustic perception. Our results show that subjects perform differently when focusing on meaning and on acoustics, especially for prominence marking, where many different words are selected as prominent under the two tasks. Boundary marking is more similar under the two instructions, with acoustic criteria resulting in a higher frequency of boundaries, but with boundaries marked largely on the same words in both tasks. When given non-specific instructions, performance was much more similar to that obtained under acoustic-based instructions. We report on agreement rates within and across conditions. This study has implications for models of prosody perception and the methodology of prosodic transcription.