On the intonation of German intonation questions: the role of the prenuclear region

Caterina Petrone, Oliver Niebuhr
Language and Speech 2014, 57 (Pt 1): 108-46
German questions and statements are distinguished not only by lexical and syntactic but also by intonational means. This study revisits, for Northern Standard German, how questions are signalled intonationally in utterances that have neither lexical nor syntactic cues. Starting from natural productions of such 'intonation questions', two perception experiments were run. Experiment 1 is based on a gating paradigm, which was applied to naturally produced questions and statements. Experiment 11 includes two indirect-identification tasks. Resynthesized stimuli were judged in relation to two context utterances, each of which was compatible with only one sentence mode interpretation. Results show that utterances with a finally falling nuclear pitch-accent contour can also trigger question perception. An utterance-final rise is not mandatory. Also, question and statement cues are not restricted to the intonational nucleus. Rather, listeners can refer to shape, slope, and alignment differences of the preceding prenuclear pitch accent to identify sentence mode. These findings are in line with studies suggesting that the utterance-final rise versus fall contrast is not directly related to sentence modality, but represents a separate attitudinal meaning dimension. Moreover, the findings support that both prenuclear and nuclear fundamental frequency (F0) patterns must be taken into account in the analysis of tune meaning.

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