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The role of pitch range in establishing intonational contrasts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2014

Joan Borràs-Comes
Universitat Pompeu
Maria del Mar Vanrell
Freie Universität
Pilar Prieto
Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA) & Universitat Pompeu


One of the unresolved issues in the field of intonational phonology is whether pitch accent range differences are used by languages to express discrete linguistic distinctions. In Catalan, as in some other Romance languages, a rising-falling nuclear pitch contour – i.e. a rising pitch accent associated with the utterance-final stressed syllable followed by a Low boundary tone – can be used to convey three different pragmatic meanings depending on its pitch range properties: information focus statements (IFSs), corrective focus statements (CFSs), and counter-expectational questions (CEQs). In order to investigate how these pragmatic meanings are distributed across the pitch range continuum and whether Catalan listeners use these tonal scaling distinctions to identify such meanings, we performed an identification task and a congruity test. The results show that CEQs differ from both IFSs and CFSs in a discrete way, yet the perceived difference between IFSs and CFSs cannot be exclusively explained by scaling differences. These findings provide further evidence that pitch range differences can be used to make intonational distinctions in some languages, and strengthen the argument that pitch range features need to be represented descriptively at the phonological level.

Research Article
Copyright © International Phonetic Association 2014 

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