Contrastive focus vs. discourse-new: Evidence from phonetic prominence in English

  • Katz J
  • Selkirk E
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The results of a production experiment show that English speakers distinguish elements under contrastive focus from elements that are merely new in the discourse. A novel paradigm eliciting both contrastively focused and merely discourse-new elements in the same sentence avoids differences in information structure and pitch accenting in the context surrounding the target elements that were confounds in previous studies on the topic. Elements under contrastive focus show greater duration, relative intensity, and F0 movement with respect to other elements in the utterance than elements that are new in the discourse but not under contrastive focus.We argue that the phonetic differences revealed here cannot be explained in terms of systematic manipulation of pitch-accent type or phrasal boundaries, and should instead be analyzed as differences in phraselevel phonological prominence for contrastively focused and merely discourse-new elements.

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  • Jonah Katz

  • Elisabeth Selkirk

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