Speech Prosody 2014

The pragmatic interpretation of intonation in Greek wh-questions

Amalia Arvaniti, Mary Baltazani and Stella Gryllia
We experimentally investigated the pragmatics of two melodies commonly used with Greek wh-questions, L*H L-!H%, described as the default, and LH* L-L% considered less frequent and polite. We tested two hypotheses: (a) the !H%-ending melody is associated with information-seeking questions, while the L%- ending melody is pragmatically more flexible and thus appropriate also for non-information-seeking whquestions expressing bias; (b) the !H%-ending melody, being more polite, is more appropriate for female talkers, all else being equal. In Experiment 1, comprehenders rated !H-ending and L%-ending versions of the same questions for politeness and appropriateness for the context in which they were heard (which favored either information-seeking or “biased” wh-questions). In Experiment 2, comprehenders heard the same questions and chose between two follow-up responses, one providing information, the other addressing the bias of the wh-question. Comprehenders rated !H%-ending questions more appropriate than L%-ending questions and judged the !H%-ending questions of female talkers more polite. They also chose information-providing answers more frequently after !H%- than L%-ending questions, but the preference was higher for female talkers and depended on comprehender gender. The results argue in favor of a compositional view of intonational meaning which depends not only on the tune but also on context, broadly construed.