Prosodic Aspects of Information Structure in Discourse

Author: Monique van Donzel
LOT Number: 023
ISBN: 90-5569-089-9
Pages: 206
Year: 1999
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The research described in this thesis focuses on how speakers make use of prosodic aspects, such as accent lending and boundary marking pitch movements, and pauses, to realize the structure of spoken discourse. Structure in this respect refers to discourse boundaries of different depths on the one hand, and to important information at the word level on the other. Furthermore, it was investigated how listeners make use of these prosodic cues to detect the structure of spoken discourse, again in terms of boundaries such as sentences and paragraphs, and informative words.

 

To this end, first a text-based framework to analyze the structure of spontaneously spoken discourse was developed. The application of this framework to the verbatim transcriptions of spoken discourse then provided a detailed analysis in terms of discourse boundaries and important information. The combination of 1) the actual prosodic realization by the speakers, and 2) the structure perceived by the listeners, provided useful information about what prosodic means are used in the realization and perception of the structure of spoken discourse.

 

The results of the present study show that speakers made use of boundary tones and/or pauses to mark discourse boundaries, dependent on the depth of the boundary. Pauses were important for listeners to decide where boundaries occurred in the discourse.

 

To mark important information at the word level, speakers made mainly use of pitch accents. Information that was new to the discourse was realized with pitch accent more often than information that added little to the content. Pitch accents were also indicative for listeners to perceive important information.

 

This study is of interest to experimental phoneticians, as well as to researchers in the field of discourse studies and pragmatics.

 

Monique van Donzel (1970) studied French literature and linguistics, and General linguistics and Phonetics at Leiden University from 1988 to 1994. From 1994 to 1998 she was employed as a PhD student by the Institute for Functional Research into Language and Language Use (IFOTT). The research presented in this thesis was carried out during that period at the Institute of Phonetic Sciences, University of Amsterdam.

The research described in this thesis focuses on how speakers make use of prosodic aspects, such as accent lending and boundary marking pitch movements, and pauses, to realize the structure of spoken discourse. Structure in this respect refers to discourse boundaries of different depths on the one hand, and to important information at the word level on the other. Furthermore, it was investigated how listeners make use of these prosodic cues to detect the structure of spoken discourse, again in terms of boundaries such as sentences and paragraphs, and informative words.

 

To this end, first a text-based framework to analyze the structure of spontaneously spoken discourse was developed. The application of this framework to the verbatim transcriptions of spoken discourse then provided a detailed analysis in terms of discourse boundaries and important information. The combination of 1) the actual prosodic realization by the speakers, and 2) the structure perceived by the listeners, provided useful information about what prosodic means are used in the realization and perception of the structure of spoken discourse.

 

The results of the present study show that speakers made use of boundary tones and/or pauses to mark discourse boundaries, dependent on the depth of the boundary. Pauses were important for listeners to decide where boundaries occurred in the discourse.

 

To mark important information at the word level, speakers made mainly use of pitch accents. Information that was new to the discourse was realized with pitch accent more often than information that added little to the content. Pitch accents were also indicative for listeners to perceive important information.

 

This study is of interest to experimental phoneticians, as well as to researchers in the field of discourse studies and pragmatics.

 

Monique van Donzel (1970) studied French literature and linguistics, and General linguistics and Phonetics at Leiden University from 1988 to 1994. From 1994 to 1998 she was employed as a PhD student by the Institute for Functional Research into Language and Language Use (IFOTT). The research presented in this thesis was carried out during that period at the Institute of Phonetic Sciences, University of Amsterdam.

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