Prosodic cues signal the intent of potential indirect requests

AbstractAmbiguity pervades language. One prevalent kind of ambiguity is indirect requests. For example, “My office is really hot” could be intended not only as a complaint about the temperature, but as a request to turn on the AC. How do comprehenders determine whether a speaker is making a request? We ask whether the prosody of an utterance provides information about a speaker’s intentions. In a behavioral experiment, we find that human listeners can identify which of two utterances a speaker intended as a request, suggesting that speakers can produce discriminable cues. We then show that the acoustic features associated with an utterance allow a classifier to detect the original intent of an utterance (74% accuracy). Finally, we ask which of these features predict listener accuracy on the behavioral experiment.

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