Rapid adaptation in online pragmatic interpretation of contrastive prosody

Chigusa KurumadaUniversity of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA
Meredith BrownUniversity of Rochester
Sarah BibykUniversity of Rochester
Daniel PontilloUniversity of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA
Michael TanenhausUniversity of Rochester


The realization of prosody varies across speakers, accents, and speech conditions. Listeners must navigate this variability to converge on consistent prosodic interpretations. We investigate whether listeners adapt to speaker-specific realization of prosody based on recent exposure and, if so, whether such adaptation is rapidly integrated with online pragmatic processing. We used the visual-world paradigm to investigate effects of prosodic cue reliability on the real-time interpretation of the construction “It looks like an X” pronounced either with (a) a H* pitch accent on the final noun, or (b) a contrastive L+H* pitch accent on looks and a rising boundary tone, a con- tour that can support a complex contrastive inference (e.g., It LOOKS like a zebra...(but it is not)). Eye-movements suggest that listeners process the L+H* on looks as an early cue to a contrastive interpretation. This effect, however, diminished when listeners had been exposed to the same speaker using the L+H* accent infelicitously. We argue that the process of prosodic interpretations is modulated by the reliability of prosodic cue values, enabling listeners to navigate variability in prosody across speakers and contexts.


Rapid adaptation in online pragmatic interpretation of contrastive prosody (1.1 MB)

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