‘I think’ is what I mean: Prosody as a signifier of speaker attitude across cultures and communication contexts

Lucy Kind, Victoria Murphy


We examine prosody as a pragmatic marker of speaker attitude through the [I + verb] belief construct before expressions of opinion. Since opinions carry inherent notions of speaker belief, these constructions at first appear superfluous. However, a previous proof-of-concept perception task showed that [I + verb] forms actually fulfill various pragmatic functions based on prosodic variation, which in turn empirically correlate to different levels of speaker confidence (Zhao, Dehe, & Murphy, 2017). This production task examines prosody as a pragmatic cue for speaker confidence of US vs Chinese speakers in communication contexts of personal belief vs judgment expressions. Results supported predictions that frequency of functional [I + verb] usage corresponded to culturally specific attitudes of each culture: Based on confidence rating values for each [I + verb] variation calculated from the perception task, Native US individuals were most confident in expressing self-opinions but least confident in expressing opinions of others, whilst Native Chinese individuals were most confident in expressing opinions of others and least confident in expressing self-opinion. Through investigating pragmatic-prosodic mappings of [I + verb] forms vs. functions, this paper demonstrates the use of prosody as a tool for pragmatic communication and the effect of culture on speaker attitude.


 DOI: 10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-11

Cite as: Kind, L., Murphy, V. (2020) ‘I think’ is what I mean: Prosody as a signifier of speaker attitude across cultures and communication contexts. Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020, 51-55, DOI: 10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-11.


@inproceedings{Kind2020,
  author={Lucy Kind and Victoria Murphy},
  title={{‘I think’ is what I mean: Prosody as a signifier of speaker attitude across cultures and communication contexts}},
  year=2020,
  booktitle={Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020},
  pages={51--55},
  doi={10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-11},
  url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-11}
}