Examining the role of prosody in the resolution of semantic ambiguity in L1 and L2 speakers of English Open Access

Smith, Robert James (2011)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/79407x355?locale=en
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Abstract

Semantic ambiguity arises when utterances contain linguistic constructions that allow for multiple logical meanings. Speech element that yield such ambiguity include the focus-sensitive operators only and even, the quantifier every, and the negation not when paired with because. In linguistics, prosody refers to the musical, rhythmic quality of speech that allows speakers to package units of language into intelligible phrase structures. This project attempted to identify the prosodic pitch changes associated with resolving instances of semantic ambiguity in native and non-native speakers of English. Forty-eight participants were recruited, sixteen each of English, Korean, and Spanish L1s. Participants in the production study were recorded as they read through a series of 20 short paragraphs, each containing an unmarked, semantically ambiguous utterance. The recordings were then analyzed using the software Praat. In the perception portion of this study, participants were asked to listen to audio clips of semantically ambiguous utterances and identify the corresponding target paragraph. Production analysis suggests that native English speakers varied their pitch changes to disambiguate between the two interpretations of the focus operators, but not the "every" and "not-because" contexts. The non-native English speakers did not systematically resolve any of contexts through pitch changes. In the perception study, native English speakers correctly selected target interpretations of the utterances at an overall rate of 76% (p<0.05). Performance varied greatly by each of the four types of ambiguity. The L2 English speakers performed significantly worse than the native English speakers. The results reveal that English speakers use prosody as a supplementary mechanism for resolving semantic ambiguity; however, second language learners do not readily acquire or recognize these prosodic patterns.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables


I. Introduction...1

A. Prosody...2
B. Prosodic transfer...7
C. Types of Semantic ambiguity...12

i. only...13
ii. even...14
iii. not-because...15
iv. every...17

D. Prosody & Semantic ambiguity - Past research...18
E. Changes in the Current Study...20

II. Methods...23

III. Results...26

A. Description of Production Analysis...26

i. only...29
ii. even...34
iii. not-because...38
iv. every...41

B. Description of Perception Analysis...44

i. One Sample T-tests and Averages...44
ii. ANOVA...46
iii. Correlations...49

C. Best Perception Answers...51

IV. Discussion...55

V. Works Cited...61

VI. Appendices...64

A. Additional Tables...64
B. Semantic Context Paragraphs...68


List of Figures
Figure I: Spectrogram of a recording of "She even ate bamboo"...6
Figure II: Typology of accent systems...8

Figure III: Classes of semantic ambiguity with corresponding scopes and focuses used in this study...18

Figure IV: Spectrogram of object focus recording of "She only hit Joseph"...31

Figure V: Spectrogram of predicate focus recording of "She only hit Joseph"...32

Figure VI: ONLY - Pitch changes from "only to predicate" by language and semantic focus...33

Figure VII: ONLY - Pitch changes from "predicate to object" by language and semantic focus...33

Figure VIII: EVEN - Pitch changes from "even to predicate" by language and semantic focus...36

Figure IX: EVEN - Pitch changes from "predicate to object" by language and semantic focus...37

Figure X: NOT-BECAUSE - Pitch changes from "predicate to because" by language and scope...40

Figure XI: NOT-BECAUSE - Pitch changes from "predicate to cause" by language and scope...40

Figure XII: EVERY - Pitch changes from "not to argument" by language and scope...43

Figure XIII: Mean target score by native language and type of ambiguity...47

Figure XIV: Spectrogram of narrow scope of negation recording of "Gene didn't cry because she was hurt"...53

Figure XV: Spectrogram of wide scope of negation recording of "Gene didn't cry because she was hurt"...53


List of Tables
Table 1: ONLY - Separate pitch changes from "only to predicate" and "predicate to object" by language and semantic focus...63

Table 2: ONLY - Whole utterance speech contours combining both "only to predicate" and "predicate to object pitch changes by language and semantic focus...63

Table 3: ONLY - Significance values for differences in pitch-change distribution...63

Table 4: EVEN - Separate pitch changes from "even to predicate" and "predicate to object" by language and semantic focus...64

Table 5: EVEN - Whole utterance speech contours combining both "only to predicate" and "predicate to object pitch changes by language and semantic focus...64

Table 6: EVEN - Significance values for differences in pitch-change distribution...64

Table 7: NOT-BECAUSE - Separate pitch changes from "predicate to because" and "predicate to cause" by language and scope...65

Table 8: NOT-BECAUSE - Whole utterance speech contours combining both "predicate to because" and "predicate to cause" pitch changes by language and scope...65

Table 9: NOT-BECAUSE - Significance values for differences in pitch-change distribution...65

Table 10: EVERY - separate pitch changes from "not to argument" by language and scope...66

Table 11: EVERY - Significance values for differences in pitch-change distribution...66

Table 12: Significance values for one-way ANOVA comparisons...48

Table 13: Correlation R-values and paired samples significance tests between data variables...67

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