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Effects of lexical semantics on acoustic prominence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2015

Stanford University
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Address for correspondence: Molly L. Lewis, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Jordan Hall (Building 420), Stanford, CA 94305. e-mail:


This paper explores the representations underlying lexical semantics. In particular, we test whether a word’s meaning can affect a word’s articulation. In Experiment 1, participants produced high-effort (e.g., yelling) and low-effort (e.g., chatting) words that are semantically related to articulation, as well as words that are semantically unrelated to articulation (e.g., kicking). We found that vocal words were produced with greater intensity than non-vocal words. In Experiment 2, we explored the specificity of this effect by investigating how words semantically related to the mouth, but unrelated to vocalization (e.g., chewing) were articulated. Analyses revealed that mouth words did not differ from controls, and we replicated the vocal effects from Experiment 1, suggesting fine-grain motor activation from lexical semantics. Experiment 3 revealed that the semantics of a verb influences the prosodic intensity of a sentence prior to the onset of the verb. Together, these data suggest aspects of lexical meaning influence prosody, and that motor representations may underlie lexical semantics.

Research Article
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2015 

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