Speaking of causality

Author: Na Hu
LOT Number: 637
ISBN: 978-94-6093-422-3
Pages: 253
Year: 2023
1st promotor: Prof. dr. T.J.M. Sanders
2nd promotor: Prof. dr. H. Quené
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Human mind distinguishes between different types of causal relations, such as those that can be directly observed from the physical world (e.g., “My daughter had a fight with her best friend, so she cried”), and those that are constructed by people in the mental world (e.g., “My daughter cried, so maybe she had a fight with her best friend”). Previous research has shown that coherence markers, such as specialized causal connectives (e.g., want ‘because’ and omdat ‘because’ in Dutch), can help people determine the type of causality the speaker intends to express (subjective vs. objective). This dissertation focuses on the role of prosody—changes in pitch, loudness, or timing—in communicating different types of causality.

This dissertation explores this issue in two steps. First, using a dialogue task, this dissertation examines the use of prosody in expressing the two different types of causality. The results show that there is a trade-off between the use of prosody and the use of specialized causal connectives in expressing subjective and objective causal relations. Based on this finding, this dissertation proceeds to examine the effect of prosodic information on the construction of causality. The results obtained from a discourse completion task show that the prosody features of the connective so affect listeners’ expectation of the causality in the upcoming context.

This dissertation provides new insights into how different types of causality are communicated in speech communication by showing that not only the lexical information but also the prosodic information plays a role.

Human mind distinguishes between different types of causal relations, such as those that can be directly observed from the physical world (e.g., “My daughter had a fight with her best friend, so she cried”), and those that are constructed by people in the mental world (e.g., “My daughter cried, so maybe she had a fight with her best friend”). Previous research has shown that coherence markers, such as specialized causal connectives (e.g., want ‘because’ and omdat ‘because’ in Dutch), can help people determine the type of causality the speaker intends to express (subjective vs. objective). This dissertation focuses on the role of prosody—changes in pitch, loudness, or timing—in communicating different types of causality.

This dissertation explores this issue in two steps. First, using a dialogue task, this dissertation examines the use of prosody in expressing the two different types of causality. The results show that there is a trade-off between the use of prosody and the use of specialized causal connectives in expressing subjective and objective causal relations. Based on this finding, this dissertation proceeds to examine the effect of prosodic information on the construction of causality. The results obtained from a discourse completion task show that the prosody features of the connective so affect listeners’ expectation of the causality in the upcoming context.

This dissertation provides new insights into how different types of causality are communicated in speech communication by showing that not only the lexical information but also the prosodic information plays a role.

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