JOURNAL ARTICLE

Parallel encoding of focus and interrogative meaning in Mandarin intonation

Fang Liu, Yi Xu
Phonetica 2005, 62 (2-4): 70-87
16391495
Despite much research, disagreements abound regarding the detailed characteristics of question intonation in different languages or even in the same language. The present study investigates question intonation in Mandarin by also considering the role of focus that is frequently ignored in previous research. In experiment 1, native speakers of Mandarin produced statements, yes/no questions, particle questions, wh-questions, rhetorical questions and confirmation questions with narrow focus on the initial, medial or final word of the sentence, or on none of the words. Detailed F(0) contour analyses showed that focus generated the same pitch range modification in questions as in statements, i.e., expanding the pitch range of the focused word, suppressing (compressing and lowering) that of the post-focus words, but leaving that of the pre-focus words largely unaffected. When the effects of focus (as well as other functions also potentially present) were controlled by subtracting statement F(0) contours from those of the corresponding yes/no questions, the resulting difference curves resembled exponential or even double-exponential functions. Further F(0) analyses also revealed an interaction between focus and interrogative meaning in the form of a boost to the pitch raising by the question start-ing from the focused word. Finally, subtle differences in the amount of pitch raising were also observed among different types of questions, especially at the sentence-final position. Experiment 2 investigated whether listeners could detect both focus and question in the same utterance. Results showed that listeners could identify both in most cases, indicating that F(0) variations related to the two functions could be simultaneously transmitted. Meanwhile, the lowest identification rates were found for neutral focus in questions and for statements with final focus. In both cases, the confusions seemed to arise from the competing F(0) adjustments by interrogative meaning and focus at the sentence-final position. These findings are consistent with the functional view of intonation, according to which components of intonation are defined and organized by individual communicative functions that are independent of each other but are encoded in parallel.

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