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Prosody and meaning ed. by Gorka Elordieta, Pilar Prieto (review)

From: Language
Volume 89, Number 4, December 2013
pp. 957-960 | 10.1353/lan.2013.0070

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

There have been few groundbreaking works on the meaning of intonation. Bartels’s (1999) book or Pierrehumbert and Hirschberg’s (1990) famous paper and the response to it by Hobbs (1990) are the most cited examples of such studies. Truckenbrodt’s 2012 article on the semantics of intonation is too recent to be widely cited, but may well become another classical article on the meaning of prosody. Although not all ten papers of Prosody and meaning can compare to these, a few very useful and innovative studies are grouped together, and this renders the book important. Prosody and tonal structure are modules of linguistics that are lagging behind most others; this is because they need phonetic analysis, and the technology necessary for their study has become accessible to a large number of researchers only recently. Moreover, as a part of linguistics, intonation is an interface discipline, in need of syntactic and semantic components. Only few linguists master all three domains sufficiently to explore meaning in prosody.

In their introduction to the book, the editors mention that papers with similar main themes or approaches could be grouped together, and the editors do an excellent job of summarizing the content of the papers, but a summary of the whole book or of the larger perspective behind the book is missing, as are connections among the contributions or to intonation research in general. Perhaps this is due to the way the book came into being in the first place: it grew out of a workshop held at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans in Barcelona, September 17–19, 2009, concerning the relation between prosody and meaning. Some of the papers presented there are included in the book plus a few additional ones. The book is not organized in sections, and the groups of papers mentioned in the introduction do not serve as a guideline for the order of the chapters. In my review, I follow the order of the book, and address each paper in turn.

As the editors put it in the introduction, ‘Most of the papers devoted to the study of the production and perception of intonational contrasts related to information structure adopt a laboratory phonology methodology’ (1). In this category, we find Mariapaola D’Imperio, James German , and Amandine Michelas ’s paper, ‘A multi-level approach to focus, phrasing and intonation in French’, in their own wording, a compilation of older studies by the same authors. It contains a very nice and informative review of the previous literature on French intonation. The authors assume that, besides the prosodic domains of intonation phrase and accentual phrase used by most researchers, French needs an additional prosodic domain, called the intermediate phrase. This is because all prosodic levels characterized by tonal structure have an initial tonal rise; this initial rise is larger and more likely to occur at the left edge of a contrastive focus domain and in longer phrases, although these two factors do not interact. It is the presence of this larger initial rise that motivates an additional prosodic domain. A number of alternatives that could account for the larger initial rise without losing the insight that long or focused phrases are often phrased independently come to mind, such as recursive prosodic domains or larger phonetic cues due to information structure, but none of these alternatives are discussed.

The second paper, ‘Syntax-prosody mapping, topic-comment structure and stress-focus correspondence in Hungarian’ by Balázs Surányi, Shinichiro Ishihara , and Fabian Schubö , reports on original research. The authors investigated the prosodic realization of Hungarian sentences containing two quantified phrases, QP1 and QP2, in preverbal position in three focus conditions: broad focus, narrow focus on QP1, and narrow focus on QP2. They ask the interesting question of how the need for nuclear stress to be preverbal is reconciled with the presence of two QPs in this position. The carefully analyzed phonetic results show that the speakers chose different prosodic patterns to realize a narrow focus that is not in the canonical preverbal position, thus on QP1. They also show what the speakers did with QP1 when QP2 was narrowly focused...



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