Speech Prosody 2008

Campinas, Brazil
May 6-9, 2008

The Effect of Contour Type and Epistemic Modality on the Assessment of Speaker Certainty

Agustín Gravano (1), Stefan Benus (2), Julia Hirschberg (1), Elisa Sneed German (3), Gregory Ward (3)

(1) Department of Computer Science, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
(2) Dept. of English and American Studies, Constantine the Philosopher University, Nitra, Slovaki
(3) Department of Linguistics, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
(3) Department of Linguistics, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

In an empirical study participants were asked to rate the perceived degree of certainty of utterances that contained either the modal would or main verb be (e.g. That would be me vs. That’s me), and which were also variously produced with one of three intonational contours (downstepped, declarative, and yes-no question). We found that both downstepped contour and epistemic would made a significant and independent contribution to the assessment of speaker certainty. That is, participants rated utterances with the downstepped contour as most certain, followed by those with the declarative contour, while the yes-noquestion contour was perceived as highly uncertain. Similarly, participants rated speakers' responses with epistemic would as significantly more certain than those without it.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Gravano, Agustín / Benus, Stefan / Hirschberg, Julia / German, Elisa Sneed / Ward, Gregory (2008): "The effect of contour type and epistemic modality on the assessment of speaker certainty", In SP-2008, 401-404.