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Review of  Lexical, Pragmatic, and Positional Effects on Prosody in Two Dialects of Croatian and Serbian

Reviewer: Visnja Josipovic Smojver
Book Title: Lexical, Pragmatic, and Positional Effects on Prosody in Two Dialects of Croatian and Serbian
Book Author: Rajka Smiljanic
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Subject Language(s): Croatian
Issue Number: 16.1455

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Date: Wed, 4 May 2005 20:02:34 +0200
From: Visnja Josipovic Smojver
Subject: Lexical, Pragmatic, and Positional Effects on Prosody in ...
Croatian and Serbian

AUTHOR: Smiljanic, Rajka
TITLE: Lexical, Pragmatic, and Positional Effects on Prosody in Two
Dialects of Croatian and Serbian
SUBTITLE: An Acoustic Study
SERIES: Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2004

Visnja Josipovic Smojver, Department of English, University of Zagreb,

This book is a slightly revised version of the Ph.D. dissertation which
the author did at the University of Illinois. It investigates the
interaction of lexical, pragmatic, and prosodic factors in determining the
pitch contours and durational patterns in Belgrade and Zagreb speech.
These two dialects are spoken in the capital cities of Serbia and Croatia
and thus represent the two respective cognate and mutually understandable
pitch accent languages, Serbian and Croatian. Although being essentially
an acoustic study, this work is no less a phonological analysis of the
prosodic systems of the two dialects under consideration. The theoretical
framework of this analysis is autosegmental/metrical phonology combined
with an intonational approach using the 'Tone-and-Break Indices' (ToBI)
notation. The author relies, mainly for Serbian, on the earlier studies by
Lehiste and Ivic (1986) and Godjevac (1999), but largely extends and to a
certain point contradicts their findings.

The book consists of six chapters. Chapter 1 includes introductory
remarks, offering an account of the historical, typological, and general
linguistic background of the two Slavic languages under consideration, as
well as the book outline. Chapter 2 presents the results of an acoustic
experiment focusing on the alignment of tonal peaks in the two dialects.
By this experiment the author establishes that Belgrade and Zagreb speech
belong to different prosodic types. While the Belgrade dialect clearly
makes use of the four lexical prosodic patterns, based on the combination
of the long vs. short and rising vs. falling parameters, its Croatian
counterpart lacks them. Consequently, there is a difference between
Belgrade and Zagreb speech in the expression of focus. In Belgrade, there
are asymmetric patterns of lengthening and pitch-peak retraction,
resulting in the exaggeration of the lexical prosodic contrasts. In the
speech of Zagreb subjects, however, narrow focus is expressed through a
uniform enhancement of pitch and duration affecting the stressed syllable.

Chapter 3 investigates the pitch-range and tonal alignment of the valleys
preceding and following the peaks. The alignment patterns discovered here
are argued to be relevant acoustic correlates of lexical accents and
pragmatic narrow focus. The acoustic data obtained here indicate that in
both Belgrade and Zagreb speech the low tonal target preceding the peak
(L1) forms a composite accentual gesture, L+H with the peak. However, the
phonological function of these tonal valleys differs in the two dialects.
In Belgrade speech, the L1 alignment serves to differentiate between the
rising and falling lexical patterns (accents). In Zagreb speech it is used
to express narrow focus. As for the low target following the accentual
peak (L2), acoustic and phonological arguments are offered for treating it
as a word-final boundary tone, rather than an integral part of a composite
H+L accent. In short, the phonological analysis of the accentual patterns
proposed for the two dialects is the following:

Belgrade: L*+H = rising; L+H* = falling
Zagreb: L*+H = broad focus; L+H* = narrow focus

In Chapter 4 the author presents another acoustic experiment, by which she
investigates the effect of pragmatic narrow focus on word non-initial
accents. The data obtained here extend the findings from Experiment I. In
Belgrade speech, except for the H tone in the short-rising series, both L-
alignment and H- alignment are correlates of accent/vowel length, rather
than of pragmatics. The high correlations between the alignment of H and
L1 supports the phonological analysis of the rising accents as L*+H,
proposed in the previous chapter. In Zagreb speech, by contrast, both L-
and H- alignment is determined largely by pragmatic factors. Once again,
the acoustic data obtained through the experiment under consideration
support the phonological analysis of the two Zagreb pitch accents proposed
in the previous chapter as L*+H (expressing broad focus) and L+H* (narrow

Generally, based on the data presented in this chapter, the author
identifies four strategies of acoustic cue manipulation for expressing
narrow focus: vowel lengthening, pitch expansion, peak retraction and
valley retraction. These strategies are used in both dialects, though to
different extents.

Chapter 5 reports on yet another acoustic experiment, which serves to
compare the expression of narrow focus in utterance-initial and utterance-
final position. It is shown that in both dialects the pitch peak alignment
in utterance-final position is affected by the upcoming intonational
boundary. This is manifested as peak retraction, which is suggested to be
a response to tonal crowding under close proximity to the following
boundary tones. Notably, despite such additional tonal adjustment, the
lexical pitch contrast is still maintained in Belgrade speech under narrow
focus in final position.

Chapter 6 is the final chapter, which summarizes the main findings
presented in the book and suggests future lines of research.


This book is a valuable source of insights into the principles governing
the phonetic implementation of lexical, prosodic, and pragmatic
information in pitch-accent languages. It is probably even more
interesting as a contribution to Croatian and Serbian dialectology. What
makes it particularly praiseworthy in this latter sense is the fact that
the phonological analysis of the prosody of the two dialects offered here
represents the first extensive study on the subject based on a
scientifically rigorous acoustic study combined with equally serious
statistical expertise in the interpretation of data. Thanks to these
features, this book is free from any impressionism. On the other hand,
however, being recorded in perfectly controlled laboratory conditions, the
utterances which are used to represent contemporary colloquial Zagreb/
Belgrade speech are necessarily somewhat artificial, as the author herself
in a way acknowledges when thanking her subjects for having done the
tedious job of repetitively uttering the 'boring' sentences. Of course,
the somewhat artificial nature of the corpus is perfectly normal for this
type of study and reference to it is not meant as a criticism, but,
rather, as a remark for the reading public, who perhaps should have been
made more aware of the limitations of the scope of this study. Likewise,
it should be noted that there is much more to the pragmatics of intonation
than expressing the two types of focus studied here. In addition, for non-
native speakers of Croatian who are potential readers of this book it
would be useful to stress that the Zagreb dialect is the prosodically
simplest variety of the Croatian language in that it lacks the four
lexical prosodic patterns ('accents'), as opposed to many other varieties,
including the standard type of Croatian pronunciation. Like Belgrade
speech, Standard Croatian has the four accents, but nevertheless
unmistakably sounds prosodically different from Belgrade speech or any
other variety of Serbian speech for that matter. This suggests that there
must be other major factors giving identity to particular varieties of
Croatian and Serbian, apart from the presence vs. absence of the lexical
accent contrast and the resulting consequences in the strategies of pitch
manipulation. To make pitch-accent prosody even more elusive, the findings
obtained by this acoustic study still need to be confirmed by perceptual
studies, as Smiljanic correctly observes in her final chapter.

Although a somewhat more explicit account of the limitations of the scope
of the book could have made the reading public more aware of the extreme
complexity of Croatian and Serbian prosody, the above remarks are
certainly not meant as criticism. Quite to the contrary, it must be
observed that everything set out in the title of the book has been dealt
with thoroughly, correctly, and nicely. However, in order not to sound too
complimentary, at this point I will make a little critical comment
concerning a claim made in 1.2.1. in the context of a general description
of Croatian and Serbian. It must be either a misinterpretation of some
source or a major slip of the pen when it is stated that the Glagolitic
alphabet 'continues to be used in parts of Dalmatia to this day'. To the
best of my knowledge, this is not true. The Glagolitic alphabet is no
longer used for any practical purposes in any part of Croatia. If I am
wrong, I would be grateful to anyone who could name a locality in Dalmatia
where it is used in normal communication and thus clarify the point. At
any rate, even if this piece of information is incorrect, this little
detail cannot seriously detract from the value of this precious piece of
work. Summed up in two words, my appraisal of Rajka Smiljanic's book is
still: 'Well done!'


Godjevac, Svetlana (2000) Intonation, word order, and focus projection in
Serbo-Croatian. Unpublished Ph.D dissertation. Ohio State University,

Lehiste, Ilse & Pavle Ivic (1986) Word and sentence prosody in
Serbocroatian. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Visnja Josipovic Smojver is an Associate Professor in the Department of
English, University of Zagreb, Croatia. She teaches undergraduate and
graduate courses of phonetics and phonology, as well as an undergraduate
course entitled 'Accents of English'. Her major research interests include
the phenomenon of foreign accent, contrastive English/ Croatian phonetics
and phonology, and, most recently, the speech of twins. She has published
a number of works on these topics and is also the author of a textbook of
phonetics and phonology for university students, Phonetics and Phonology
for Students of English, Zagreb: Targa (1999).

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0415971179
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 192
Prices: U.S. $ 70.00