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Sound and Meaning – How are prosody and information structure interacted in tonal languages

soundPhD students: Lei Sun
Supervisors: Prof. dr. Niels Schiller (LUCL) and Prof. dr. Vincent van Heuven (LUCL)

I am working in a project which aims at investigating the interaction of prosody and information structure in tonal languages. Information structure refers to the way how speakers package information, e.g. they may choose to focus some parts of / the whole sentence in speech when they are answering a question or correcting wrong information in the interlocutor’s talk. Accordingly, it has been proposed that focus has narrow/broad or corrective/new types. Prosody is widely known to be employed as a tool to encode these meanings in tonal languages.

In Standard Chinese (Mandarin), focused constituent was found to have wide f0 range and longer duration, and post-focus parts were compressed or expanded depending on tonal contexts (Xu, 1999; Chen, 2010). We are interested in two general research questions:

  1. how is the expression of information structure notions constrained by phonological structure of tonal languages?
  2. how are different meanings mentioned above encoded with different prosodic cues in tonal languages and why?