Speech Prosody 2008

Campinas, Brazil
May 6-9, 2008

Discourse Structure and Phrase Level Phenomena: The Phonetics of Continuation Contours in Topic-Internal Position

Barbara Gili Fivela

University of Salento & CRIL, Lecce, Italy

This paper investigates the structuring of information in task-oriented dialogues, focussing on sequences of phrases produced with final-rising contours conveying continuation. Fragments extracted form dialogues are described with the aim of both showing some unexpected phonetic correlates of such contours and discussing the characteristics of the contexts where these correlates are observed.

A closer look at the phonetic implementation of continuation contours led to the observation that speakers may implement phrases with progressively expanded pitch ranges and with increasing fundamental frequency values for their boundary tones. The trend appears to be produced in well-planned sections of the dialogues, where it seems to be a quite robust phenomenon: the pattern was observed on not adjacent phrases, across quite complex stretches of dialogues. However, it is interesting to notice that the number of phrases showing this quite precise phonetic control was always three, four at the most - this find recalls other observations in the literature on phonetic long distance relations. Nevertheless, even when a sequence of phrases is characterized by rising contours, the topic-initial and topic-final phrases - usually characterized by falling edge tones - are usually realized with pitch range variations in line with those described in the literature. Therefore, the topic-internal increasing of frequency values at the boundaries, and of phrase pitch ranges, does not conflict because of the different phonological choices made by the speakers.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Gili Fivela, Barbara (2008): "Discourse structure and phrase level phenomena: the phonetics of continuation contours in topic-internal position", In SP-2008, 497-500.