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LINGUIST List 23.2299

Mon May 14 2012

Diss: Cognitive Science/Discourse Analysis/Phonology/Phonetics: Tyler: 'Discourse Prosody in Production and Perception'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <xiyanlinguistlist.org>

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Date: 11-May-2012
From: Joseph Tyler <jctyler5gmail.com>
Subject: Discourse Prosody in Production and Perception
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Institution: University of Michigan
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2012

Author: Joseph Tyler

Dissertation Title: Discourse Prosody in Production and Perception

Dissertation URL: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jctyler/

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
                            Discourse Analysis
                            Philosophy of Language

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Ezra Keshet
Hannah Rohde
Julie Boland
Robin Queen

Dissertation Abstract:

A well-formed discourse is more than just a series of well-formed
sentences. While often left implicit, this structure to discourse is
sometimes overtly cued. And though most attention in this area has focused
on lexicalized cues like discourse markers, prosody can also convey
information about the structure of discourse. This dissertation explores
the relationship between prosody and discourse in production and
perception, helping to identify what information about the structure of
discourse is in speakers' prosody and what prosodic variation listeners use
in discourse interpretation.

First, a production study examines prosodic correlates of discourse
structure in readings of a newspaper article. Prosodic measures of pause
duration, pitch, intensity and speech rate were correlated with discourse
structural measures of boundary size, discourse coordination/subordination,
and their interaction. Results showed significant correlations between the
prosodic measures and both structural measures and their interaction. This
interaction shows that the effect of boundary size on an utterance's
prosody often depends on whether that utterance is coordinated or
subordinated, and vice versa.

Then, a series of perception studies examine the ability of synthesized
manipulations of prosody to bias the interpretation of ambiguous discourse.
For example, the discourse "I sat in on a history class. I read about
housing prices. And I watched a cool documentary" could be interpreted as
describing three separate, independent events (coordinated interpretation)
or that the events of the second and third sentences took place during the
event of the first (subordinated interpretation). Results show rising pitch
at the end of the first sentence led to more coordinated interpretations
compared to falling pitch.

These results are taken to suggest that one meaning for rising pitch is as
a marker of discourse coordination. This proposal is motivated by research
on listing intonation. The potentially contradictory claim by Pierrehumbert
& Hirschberg (1990) that high terminal pitch indicates elaboration, a
subordinating relation, is discussed and re-analyzed to bring their data in
line with these results. Then, these results are discussed with respect to
prosodic disambiguation of syntax, and comparisons are made between
prosodic disambiguation of syntactic and discourse structures.

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