14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-14)

San Francisco, CA, USA
August 1-7, 1999

Situational Constraints on the Prosodic Resolution of Syntactic Ambiguity

Shari R. Speer (1), Paul Warren (2), Amy J. Schafer (3), S. David White (1), Jenny Kneale (2)

(1) University of Kansas, USA; (2) Victoria University of Wellington, Australia; (3) UCLA, USA

Speakers' prosodic marking of syntactic constituency is often measured in sentence reading tasks that lack realistic situational constraints on speaking. Results from such studies can be criticized because the pragmatic goals of a reader differ dramatically from those of speakers in typical conversation. On the other hand, recordings of unscripted speech do not readily yield the carefully controlled contrasts required for many research purposes. Our research employs a cooperative game task, in which two speakers use utterances from a predetermined set to negotiate moves around gameboards. Results from a set of prepositional phrase ambiguities suggest that speakers signal the syntactic structural difference between two attachment possibilities, even when the utterance context disambiguates the attachment. However, our results also show that prosodic marking is greater when the utterance is a directive one, rather than a confirmatory one, suggesting that there are some pragmatic situational constraints on prosodic resolution of ambiguity.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Speer, Shari R. / Warren, Paul / Schafer, Amy J. / White, S. David / Kneale, Jenny (1999): "Situational constraints on the prosodic resolution of syntactic ambiguity", In ICPhS-14, 1301-1304.