Speech Prosody 2002

Aix-en-Provence, France
April 11-13, 2002

Ambiguity in Broad Focus and Narrow Focus Interpretation in Japanese

Kiwako Ito

Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. IL, USA

In languages such as English, German, and Dutch, accentuation on an argument is claimed to be obligatory for the expression of broad focus for the entire phrase carrying new information. In Japanese, which has lexical pitch accents, focus is marked by pitch range expansion instead. This paper examines whether prosodic prominence on just the argument leads to a broad focus interpretation in Japanese as well. Listeners response time and conscious evaluation were measured while they listened to short dialogues. The results show interesting resemblance to those in English reported by Birch and Clifton (1995): as the answer to broad focus questions, listeners judged utterances with pitch range expansion for both the object and the verb as more appropriate than those whose pitch range was expanded for only the object or the verb. However, unlike in Birch and Clifton s results, all three prosodic patterns were accepted equally quickly in the discourse comprehension task. These findings suggest that focus may project from one prominent word to the entire verb phrase in Japanese, but the use of intonation to contrast focus may be restricted in Japanese due to the primary function of pitch accents to contrast lexical meanings.

Full Paper
Sound Examples (to Fig. 1 in the full paper): A1   A2   A3

Bibliographic reference.  Ito, Kiwako (2002): "Ambiguity in broad focus and narrow focus interpretation in Japanese", In SP-2002, 411-414.