The High-fall Contour in North American English: A Case Study in Imperatives

Emma Gibson, Francisco Torreira, Michael Wagner


It has been claimed that imperatives, similar to declaratives, occur most often with a tune that is overall “falling” in pitch. However, with another tune different illocutionary as well as attitudinal interpretations may arise. In this paper, we investigate one such tune, which we categorize as the “high-fall contour” and can be described as a nuclear high accent that is often scaled higher (or ‘upstepped’) compared to earlier accents. We show that it is used in the context of “weak” (suggestion-like) and “repeated” or “redundant” imperatives. The “weak” usage of the high-fall seems contradictory in pragmatic flavour to its use in repetitions, which usually sound like definite commands and not suggestions. We test for whether these uses may be distinguishable based on prenuclear patterns, as has been suggested in prior literature, and ultimately do not find evidence to suggest the tunes are distinct.


 DOI: 10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-86

Cite as: Gibson, E., Torreira, F., Wagner, M. (2020) The High-fall Contour in North American English: A Case Study in Imperatives. Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020, 419-423, DOI: 10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-86.


@inproceedings{Gibson2020,
  author={Emma Gibson and Francisco Torreira and Michael Wagner},
  title={{The High-fall Contour in North American English: A Case Study in Imperatives}},
  year=2020,
  booktitle={Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020},
  pages={419--423},
  doi={10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-86},
  url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-86}
}