How pitch accents and focus particles affect the recognition of contextual alternatives


Listeners are sensitive to contrastive alternatives in online language comprehension (e.g., Braun & Tagliapietra, 2010). Such alternatives play a crucial a role in the definition of particles like only which have been found (i) to facilitate recall of contextual alternatives (Spalek, et al., in revision) and (ii) to hamper the rejection of unmentioned alternatives (Gotzner et al., in preparation). The present study investigated the impact of combining a contrastive accent with a particle on memory for contextual alternatives. The results revealed that L+H* accents (contrastive) facilitate recognition of a contextual alternative to the accented item compared with H* accents (non-contrastive). Adding either the particle only or also to the L+H* accent slows probe recognition relative to a condition with bare L+H* accent. Hence, while contrastive accenting directly increases the salience of alternatives in a listener’s mental model, focus particles lead to an initial processing cost.

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