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Research Program

Prosody and information structure

The objective is to characterize the prosodic realizations of the different partitions of the content, in particular the information structure (ground/informational focus), along with the different types of contrast.

  1. The Alignment of Information Structure and Prosody in French Interrogatives
  2. This project investigates how information structure is marked in the prosody of interrogatives in French. Specifically, it seeks to provide an account of the alignment between semantically defined notions such as focus (Rooth 1992), Givenness (Schwarzschild 1999) and functional restriction (Krifka 2001) with prosodic dimensions such as phrasing, tonal alignment, and pitch register. In assertions and polar interrogatives, for example, it has been shown that the region following a contrastively focused element may be marked by the reduction or absence of prominent tonal features, while the focused element itself is realized with a specialized pitch contour (Jun & Fougeron 2000, F├ęry 2001). For assertions, it has been further shown that the region preceding a contrastive focus may be marked by a compression of the pitch range relative to that of the focused element (Dohen & Loevenbruck 2004). It remains to be shown whether (i) the pre-focal domain is similarly marked in polar interrogatives, and (ii) whether and how the various domains (focus, pre-focal, post-focal) are marked in whinterrogatives.

    These issues will be addressed through a series of controlled experimental studies.
    First, a production study will examine the specific prosodic consequences of a systematic manipulation of both the left and right boundaries of a focus domain across textually matched sentences. The resulting productions will then be used in an interactive perception study designed to test the extent to which the hypothesized prosodic contrasts are used by listeners to differentiate between alternative interpretations. The findings of these studies will provide a better understanding of how categories of information structure are realized in French. In addition, they will serve to test various existing claims concerning the prosodic realization of information structure in French. Beyssade et al. (2007), for example, suggest that a nuclear contour (a phonological primitive in their system) aligns with the left edge of a restriction (roughly, a semantic focus) in both polar and wh-interrogatives. Ultimately, the study may be extended to investigate in situ interrogatives as well as declarative questions. Currently, a preliminary corpus of elicited polar and wh- interrogatives is being gathered for the purpose of refining the experimental hypotheses.

    Contact: James German (bearbane at