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Academic Paper


Title: On some functions of salient initial accents in French talk-in-interaction: Intonational meaning and the interplay of prosodic, verbal and sequential properties of talk
Author: Rasmus Persson
Author: Oliver Niebuhr
Author: Nigel Ward
Linguistic Field: Phonology; Pragmatics
Subject Language: French
Abstract: The question of whether and how intonation patterns bear meanings is an old one, usually evaluated with reference to imagined or elicited speech. This study takes an interactional linguistic approach instead, examining intonation and meaning in naturally occurring interaction. The pattern considered here is a French intonation contour involving a salient initial accent and a low primary accent. This intonation pattern could be analysed as the so-called accent d'insistance, which is often said to have pragmatic meanings such as intensification and contrastive focus. This article analyses the uses of this contour in repeats. When used in repeats of an interlocutor's speech, the contour indicates unproblematic receipt of the repeated talk, making a confirming response optional, and contrasts with a final rise pattern used in repeats that initiate repair and request confirmation. However, in two other types of repetitions (self-repetition of a previously made assessment, and modified self-repetition for correction purposes), there is indeed interactional evidence supporting the argument that the contour helps convey the pragmatic meanings intensification and contrastive focus, respectively. It is argued that all of these meanings are achieved through the interplay of semiotic resources of several kinds (prosodic, verbal and sequential properties of talk), and that the contour itself has no inherent, context-independent meaning. The empirical findings presented suggest that the autonomy of intonation in the achievement of meaning has been overemphasised.

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This article appears IN Journal of the International Phonetic Association Vol. 48, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site .

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