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Fundamental Frequency and the Production of Intonation in SSBE

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Intonation is traditionally defined as the modulation of pitch in speech. Pitch, however, describes something that listeners perceive, and is not definable in terms of any one measureable aspect of the speech signal. Although fundamental frequency (F0) has long been seen as the primary cue used in perception of pitch, it is still unclear how measurable changes in F0 map to meaning in speech.

Much research has centered on phenomena occurring at the level of the sentence, but only a few studies (e.g. Wichmann 2000) have investigated how intonation is employed in the larger discourse. However, prior research in this area has suggested that small modulations in the timing of F0 contours relative to the segmental structure of an utterance may be valuable as a marker of the organization of sentences around a discourse topic. Phenomena such as variation in F0 peak height, particularly pitch reset at initial boundaries, can also play a role in organizing discourse.

My production experiment looks into how speakers modulate F0 to signal meaning in long units of discourse with regard to the discourse topic. Native speakers of SSBE read aloud a written text that was controlled for both segmental and topical factors. Through analysis of these recordings, I investigate how the F0 range and timing of falling pitch contours are used to signal the relationships between sentences in this long discourse. The results of this experiment will provide insight into the ways in which speakers modulate their speech production to help listeners reconstruct the correct discourse structure, and will be relevant to theories of intonation which must be able to account for meaningful versus non-meaningful variation in F0.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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