4th International Conference on Spoken Language Processing

Philadelphia, PA, USA
October 3-6, 1996

A Phonetic Study of Focus in Intransitive Verb Sentences

Steve Hoskins

Applied Science and Engineering Laboratories, University of Delaware/ A. I. duPont Institute, Wilmington, DE, USA

In English, focus is one of the factors determining the prosodic characteristics of an utterance. Some recent linguistic analyses (Selkirk 1995) claim that focus is represented in the phonology by pitch accents, and the placement of these accents is determined by both the type of focus (broad, narrow), syntactic structure, and other factors such as verbargument structure. In this study, an experiment was conducted to test the interaction of focus types and different argument structures within sentences with intransitive verbs. A prosodic analysis was conducted, durations and fundamental frequency of the subject nouns and verbs of these sentences were measured. The prosodic and acoustic analyses support Selkirk (1995): specifically, the verb may be deaccented under broad focus when the subject is a theme (in unaccusatives and passives) but not when an agent (unergatives). Also, there is a tendency for the nuclear accented word to have a greater duration and F0 under narrow focus, which seems to be related to a more frequent occurance of the L+H* pitch accent for this condition.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Hoskins, Steve (1996): "A phonetic study of focus in intransitive verb sentences", In ICSLP-1996, 1632-1635.