15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003


The Psychological Reality of Rhythm Classes: Perceptual Studies

Franck Ramus, Emmanuel Dupoux, Jacques Mehler

LSCP/EHESS/ENS/CNRS, France

Linguists have traditionally classified languages into three rhythm classes, namely stress-timed, syllable-timed and mora-timed languages. However, this classification has remained controversial for various reasons: the search for reliable acoustic cues to the different rhythm types has long remained elusive; some languages are claimed to belong to none of the three classes; and few perceptual studies has bolstered the notion. We have previously proposed an acoustic/phonetic model of the different types of linguistic rhythm, and of their categorisation as such by listeners. Here, we present perceptual experiments that directly test the notion of rhythm classes, our model's predictions, and the question of intermediate languages. Language discrimination experiments were run using a speech resynthesis technique to ensure that only rhythmic cues were available to the subjects. Languages investigated were English, Dutch, Spanish, Catalan and Polish. Our results are consistent with the idea that English and Dutch are stress-timed, Spanish and Catalan are syllable-timed, but Polish seems to be different from any other language studied and thus may constitute a new rhythm class. We propose that perceptual studies tapping the ability to discriminate languages' rhythm are the proper way to generate more empirical data relevant to rhythm typology.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Ramus, Franck / Dupoux, Emmanuel / Mehler, Jacques (2003): "The psychological reality of rhythm classes: perceptual studies", In ICPhS-15, 337-342.