Speech Prosody 2014

Prominence perception in and out of context

Rory Turnbull, Adam J. Royer, Kiwako Ito and Shari R. Speer
The perception of prosodic prominence is known to be influenced by several distinct factors. In this study, we investigated the role of context, both global and local, in the prominence judgements of naive listeners. Monolingual English listeners marked where they heard prominence on pairs of two-word phrases (e.g. blue ball, green drum). Stimuli varied in whether or not the first phrase implied a contrastive focus on the second phrase. We found clear evidence of a hierarchy of prominence across pitch accent types: L+H* >H* >!H* >unaccented. Additionally, we found that contrast status only affected prominence markings when the participants were made explicitly aware of the discourse context and were instructed to imagine themselves physically present to observe the conversation. This effect of global context suggests that information structure cannot be reliably interpreted in the absence of an established discourse context. Taken together, these results suggest that naive listeners are sensitive to prominence differences at levels corresponding to categorical annotations. Perception of a word’s relative prominence was consistently influenced by phonetic and phonological factors, while pragmatic factors (such as contrast-evoking context) required more elaborate plausibility manipulations in order to affect prominence perception.