Blog Archives

Prosodic Adaptations to Pitch Perturbation in Running Speech

Conclusions: Present findings suggest that F0 and intensity are controlled in an integrated fashion to maintain the contrast between stressed and unstressed words. When a cue is impaired through perturbation, speakers not only oppose the perturbation but enhance other prosodic cues to achieve emphatic stress.

from the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research

The Specificity of Age-Related Decline in Interpretation of Emotion Cues From Prosody

Older adults are not as good as younger adults at decoding prosodic emotions. We sought to determine the specificity of this finding. Performance of older and younger adults was compared on a prosodic emotion task, a “pure” prosodic emotion task, a linguistic prosody task, and a “pure” linguistic prosody task. Older adults were less accurate at interpreting prosodic emotion cues and nonemotional contours, concurrent semantic processing worsened interpretation, and performance was further degraded when identifying negative emotions and questions. Older adults display a pervasive problem interpreting prosodic cues, but further study is required to clarify the stage at which performance declines.

from Psychology and Aging

In the eye of the listener: Pupil dilation elucidates discourse processing

The current study investigated cognitive resource allocation in discourse processing by means of pupil dilation and behavioral measures. Short question–answer dialogs were presented to listeners. Either the context question queried a new information focus in the successive answer, or else the context query was corrected in the answer sentence (correction information). The information foci contained in the answer sentences were either adequately highlighted by prosodic means or not. Participants had to judge the adequacy of the focus prosody with respect to the preceding context question. Prosodic judgment accuracy was higher in the conditions bearing adequate focus prosody than in the conditions with inadequate focus prosody. Latency to peak pupil dilation was longer when new information foci were perceived compared to correction foci. Moreover, for the peak dilation, an interaction of focus type and prosody was found. Post hoc statistical tests revealed that prosodically adequate correction focus positions were processed with smaller peak dilation in comparison to all other dialog conditions. Thus, pupil dilation and results of a principal component analysis suggest an interaction of focus type and focus prosody in discourse processing.

from the International Journal of Psychophysiology

The Effect of Prosody on Distributional Learning in 12- to 13-Month-Old Infants

Distributional information is a potential cue for learning syntactic categories. Recent studies demonstrate a developmental trajectory in the level of abstraction of distributional learning in young infants. Here we investigate the effect of prosody on infants’ learning of adjacent relations between words. Twelve- to thirteen-month-old infants were exposed to an artificial language comprised of 3-word-sentences of the form aXb and cYd, where X and Y words differed in the number of syllables. Training sentences contained a prosodic boundary between either the first and the second word or the second and the third word. Subsequently, infants were tested on novel test sentences that contained new X and Y words and also contained a flat prosody with no grouping cues. Infants successfully discriminated between novel grammatical and ungrammatical sentences, suggesting that the learned adjacent relations can be abstracted across words and prosodic conditions. Under the conditions tested, prosody may be only a weak constraint on syntactic categorization. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

from Infant and Child Development

German children use prosody to identify participant roles in transitive sentences

Most studies examining children’s understanding of transitive sentences focus on the morphosyntactic properties of the construction and ignore prosody. But adults use prosody in many different ways to interpret ambiguous sentences. In two studies we investigated whether 5-year-old German children use prosody to determine participant roles in object-first (OVS) sentences with novel verbs (i.e., whether they use prosodic marking to overrule word order as a cue). Results showed that children identify participant roles better in this atypically ordered construction when sentences are realized with the marked, OVS-typical intonational pattern, especially in combination with case marking (Study 1). In a second study, we embedded these sentences into an appropriate discourse context. The results show that, even in the absence of any case marking, children understand participant roles when they are realized with the appropriate intonational pattern. These findings demonstrate that young children can use intonation to help identify participant roles in transitive sentences, at least in marked constructions such as the German object-first (OVS) construction.

from Cognitive Linguistics

Pitch Accents in Context: How Listeners Process Accentuation in Referential Communication

We investigated whether listeners are sensitive to (mis)matching accentuation patterns with respect to contrasts in the linguistic and visual context, using Event-Related Potentials. We presented participants with displays of two pictures followed by a spoken reference to one of these pictures (e.g., “the red ball”). The referent was contrastive with respect to the linguistic context (utterance in the previous trial: e.g., “the blue ball”) or with respect to the visual context (other picture in the display; e.g., a display with a red ball and a blue ball). The spoken reference carried a pitch accent on the noun (“the red BALL”) or on the adjective (“the RED ball”), or an intermediate (‘neutral’) accentuation. For the linguistic context, we found evidence for the Missing Accent Hypothesis: Listeners showed processing difficulties, in the form of increased negativities in the ERPs, for missing accents, but not for superfluous accents. ‘Neutral’ or intermediate accents were interpreted as ‘missing’ accents when they occurred late in the referential utterance, but not when they occurred early. For the visual context, we found evidence for the Missing Accent Hypothesis for a missing accent on the adjective (an increase in negativity in the ERPs) and a superfluous accent on the noun (no effect). However, a redundant color adjective (e.g., in the case of a display with a red ball and a red hat) led to less processing problems when the adjective carried a pitch accent.

from Neuropsychologia

Detection of pitch violations depends upon the familiarity of intonational contour of sentences

The similarity of results for Italian (congruous) and jabberwocky sentences on one hand, and the difference of results for French sentences, on the other hand, show that familiarity with intonational contour of utterances/speech provided essential cues to perform the task.

from Cortex

Listeners’ comprehension of uptalk in spontaneous speech

Listeners’ comprehension of phrase final rising pitch on declarative utterances, or uptalk, was examined to test the hypothesis that prolongations might differentiate conflicting functions of rising pitch. In Experiment 1 we found that listeners rated prolongations as indicating more speaker uncertainty, but that rising pitch was unrelated to ratings. In Experiment 2 we found that prolongations interacted with rising pitch when listeners monitored for words in the subsequent utterance. Words preceded by prolonged uptalk were monitored faster than words preceded by non-prolonged uptalk. In Experiment 3 we found that the interaction between rising pitch and prolongations depended on listeners’ beliefs about speakers’ mental states. Results support the theory that temporal and situational context are important in determining intonational meaning.

from Cognition

Understanding Expressive Speech Acts: The Role of Prosody and Situational Context in French-Speaking 5- to 9-Year-Olds

Conclusions: The results are discussed and integrated into a larger conceptual framework that includes research on lexical bias and sarcasm.

from the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research

Phoneme restoration methods for investigating prosodic influences on syntactic processing

We present a novel method for establishing the preferred interpretation of ambiguities in spoken sentences. It makes use of the phoneme restoration effect (Warren, 1970): when noise replaces phoneme(s) in a word, listeners report that they perceive the word as intact and congruent with the context. If the word disambiguates a potentially ambiguous sentence, the word that is “heard” reveals which interpretation listeners assigned. The advantage of this method is its naturalness: no deliberative judgements, no interrupting task, no attention drawn to the ambiguity, and no reliance on anomalous sentences. Our experiments examined the contribution of prosodic phrasing to syntactic ambiguity resolution, using three different tasks to probe what participants thought they had heard: Visual Word Choice, Sentence Repetition, and Speech Shadowing. All three tasks showed a powerful effect of prosody on the resolution of two syntactic ambiguities in Bulgarian.

from Language and Cognitive Processes

Reorganization of functional and effective connectivity during real-time fMRI-BCI modulation of prosody processing

Mechanisms of cortical reorganization underlying the enhancement of speech processing have been poorly investigated. In the present study, we addressed changes in functional and effective connectivity induced in subjects who learned to deliberately increase activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG), and improved their ability to identify emotional intonations by using a real-time fMRI Brain–Computer Interface. At the beginning of their training process, we observed a massive connectivity of the rIFG to a widespread network of frontal and temporal areas, which decreased and lateralized to the right hemisphere with practice. Volitional control of activation strengthened connectivity of this brain region to the right prefrontal cortex, whereas training increased its connectivity to bilateral precentral gyri. These findings suggest that changes of connectivity in a functionally specific manner play an important role in the enhancement of speech processing. Also, these findings support previous accounts suggesting that motor circuits play a role in the comprehension of speech.

from Brain and Language

Poetic rhyme reflects cross-linguistic differences in information structure

Identical rhymes (right/write, attire/retire) are considered satisfactory and even artistic in French poetry but are considered unsatisfactory in English. This has been a consistent generalization over the course of centuries, a surprising fact given that other aspects of poetic form in French were happily applied in English. This paper puts forward the hypothesis that this difference is not merely one of poetic tradition, but is grounded in the distinct ways in which information-structure affects prosody in the two languages. A study of rhyme usage in poetry and a perception experiment confirm that native speakers’ intuitions about rhyming in the two languages indeed differ, and a further perception experiment supports the hypothesis that this fact is due to a constraint on prosody that is active in English but not in French. The findings suggest that certain forms of artistic expression in poetry are influenced, and even constrained, by more general properties of a language.

from Cognition

A Treatment for Dysprosody in Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Conclusion: Findings support the efficacy of this approach for improving production of lexical stress contrasts. Structuring the intervention according to the PML approach likely stimulated strong maintenance and generalization effects.

from the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research

Some Prosodic Characteristics of Repeated Talk following Conversation Repair Requests by Adults with Hearing Impairment

When miscommunications occur in conversation, participants have access to both speech- and language-based cues to clarify the miscommunicated talk. This article investigates what changes occur in prosodic speech patterns between initial and repeated talk in a brief free and unstructured conversation between an adult bilateral cochlear implantee and his chosen familiar communication partner, his wife, conducted in a clinical setting. The 23-minute conversation between the two participants included 37 self-repetitions of one or more words by the familiar communication partner. Most instances were repetition-as-repair sequences. Each of the 37 instances was subjected to acoustic analysis to identify frequency, loudness, and duration of word tokens in both the initial and repeated talk as well as pause length between tokens. Data suggest that loudness, pitch, and duration are commonly all increased in the prominent words repeated by the communication partner by contrast with the initial utterance. Repeated sequences included more pauses, but not longer ones, than the initial utterances. Prosodic patterns of repetition were influenced by the turn(s) preceding the repeated talk and the co-occurrence of prosodic and lexical elements in the repair/repetition turn. The success of the repeated talk in resolving miscommunications for this dyad suggests that prosodic speech cues in conjunction with lexical cues are effective repair strategies.

from Seminars in Hearing

Prosody meets syntax: the role of the corpus callosum

Contemporary neural models of auditory language comprehension proposed that the two hemispheres are differently specialized in the processing of segmental and suprasegmental features of language. While segmental processing of syntactic and lexical semantic information is predominantly assigned to the left hemisphere, the right hemisphere is thought to have a primacy for the processing of suprasegmental prosodic information such as accentuation and boundary marking. A dynamic interplay between the hemispheres is assumed to allow for the timely coordination of both information types. The present event-related potential study investigated whether the anterior and/or posterior portion of the corpus callosum provide the crucial brain basis for the online interaction of syntactic and prosodic information. Patients with lesions in the anterior two-thirds of the corpus callosum connecting orbital and frontal structures, or the posterior third of the corpus callosum connecting temporal, parietal and occipital areas, as well as matched healthy controls, were tested in a paradigm that crossed syntactic and prosodic manipulations. An anterior negativity elicited by a mismatch between syntactically predicted phrase structure and prosodic intonation was analysed as a marker for syntax–prosody interaction. Healthy controls and patients with lesions in the anterior corpus callosum showed this anterior negativity demonstrating an intact interplay between syntax and prosody. No such effect was found in patients with lesions in the posterior corpus callosum, although they exhibited intact, prosody-independent syntactic processing comparable with healthy controls and patients with lesions in the anterior corpus callosum. These data support the interplay between the speech processing streams in the left and right hemispheres via the posterior portion of the corpus callosum, building the brain basis for the coordination and integration of local syntactic and prosodic features during auditory speech comprehension.

from Brain