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Duane Watson

Duane Watson of UIUC will speak at the UCSD Linguistics Department Colloquium on October 17, 2011, at 2:00 pm in AP&M 4301.

Multiple roads to prominence: Understanding emphasis in conversation

Traditionally, it has been assumed that acoustic prominence is used to signal that information in a conversation is new, focused, unpredictable or important. In this talk, I will present evidence from a series of experiments suggesting that acoustic prominence is the product of a variety of factors that affect the acoustic properties of a word in different ways.  In particular, I will present evidence that acoustic prominence is partly determined by speaker-centered production processes.  Difficulty of production most strongly affects the duration of a word while predictability most strongly affects its intensity.  Furthermore, listeners do not treat all acoustic correlates of discourse-related prominence equally when processing speech, which suggests that listeners are sensitive to the fact that prominence is the product of multiple sources.  Finally, evidence will be presented that suggests that the meaning of a word can influence how it is produced: words that have meanings that involve greater vocal activity (like “yell” or “shout”) are produced with more prominence than words whose meanings do not (like “whisper”).  These findings suggest that rather than being a unitary linguistic or psychological construct, acoustic prominence in English is the product of an array of different cognitive and linguistic factors.