LINGUIST List 15.743

Mon Mar 1 2004

Diss: Phonetics: Knight: 'Peaks and Plateaux...'

Editor for this issue: Tomoko Okuno <>


  1. rachaelanne, Peaks and Plateaux: The production and perception...

Message 1: Peaks and Plateaux: The production and perception...

Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2004 12:49:43 -0500 (EST)
From: rachaelanne <>
Subject: Peaks and Plateaux: The production and perception...

Institution: University of Cambridge
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2003

Author: Rachael-Anne Knight

Dissertation Title: Peaks and Plateaux: The production and perception
of intonational high targets in English

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field: Phonetics

Dissertation Director 1: Francis Nolan
Dissertation Director 2: Sarah Hawkins

Dissertation Abstract:

Intonational high targets are often realised not as sharp peaks, but
as flat stretches of contour, or plateaux. This dissertation
investigates the realisation of high targets in production and the
effects of this realisation on perception.

The dissertation begins with a description of the development of
autosegmental-metrical approaches to intonational phonology, and the
issues raised by the presence of intonational plateaux. The
dissertation goes on to investigate plateau realisation by means of
three production experiments using highly controlled, read speech. In
these experiments, the realisation of several subjects´┐ŻEuro(tm)
plateaux is investigated in relation to both structural and
non-structural factors. The first two experiments demonstrate that
plateau duration and alignment covary with aspects of linguistic
structure, such as the onset and coda of the accented syllable, and
the number of syllables and presence of word boundaries in the final
foot. The third production experiment demonstrates that the end of
the plateau may mark linguistic structure, as its alignment is
unaffected by non-structural variables such as pitch span and
utterance type. The role of physiological constraints, and the
relationship between syllable duration and intonational alignment are

Four perceptual experiments elucidate the perceptual effects of
different ways of realising a high target. The first of these
experiments demonstrates that the alignment of the end of the plateau
within the syllable can affect the process of spoken word recognition.
These findings are related to previous experimental findings and
current models of recognition. The other three perceptual experiments
suggest that the presence of a plateau increases the perceived height
and prominence (but not the perceived duration) of accents and, as
such, may be a substitute variable for peak height. The
psychoacoustic mechanisms behind this effect and the physiological
mechanisms behind the production of intonation are discussed. It is
concluded that plateaux may be an energy efficient way to increase the
perceived prominence of the nucleus.

It is concluded that the alignment of the end of the plateau is
crucial and may signal linguistic structure, whilst the entire plateau
may be a device for increasing the perception of pitch height and
prominence. The implications of these findings for intonational
phonology and speech synthesis are discussed.
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