Incremental processing in the pragmatic interpretation of contrastive prosody


We present an eye-tracking experiment investigating the time course with which listeners derive pragmatic inferences from contextual information. We used as a test case the construction “It looks like an X” pronounced either with (a) a nuclear pitch accent on the final noun, or (b) a contrastive L+H* pitch accent and a rising boundary tone, a contour that can support a complex contrastive inference (e.g., It LOOKS like a zebra...(but it is not)). The contrastive intonational contour elicited higher proportions of fixations to non-prototypical target pictures (e.g., a zebra-like animal) during the earliest moments of processing the target noun. Further, when the display only contained a single related pair of pictures, effects of the contrastive accent on “looks” emerged prior to the target noun, indicating that efficient referential resolution is supported by rapidly generated inferences based on visual and prosodic context.

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