Testing the distinctiveness of intonational tunes: Evidence from imitative productions in American English

Eleanor Chodroff, Jennifer Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Understanding the structure of intonational variation is a longstanding issue in prosodic research. A given utterance can be realized with countless intonational contours, and while variation in prosodic meaning is also large, listeners nevertheless converge on relatively consistent form-function mappings. While this suggests the existence of abstract intonational representations, it has been unclear how exactly these are defined. The present study examines the validity of a well-defined set of phonological representations for the generation of intonation in the nuclear region of an intonational phrase in American English: namely, the combination of binary pitch accents (H*/L*), phrase accents (H-/L-), and boundary tones (H%/L%) proposed in Pierrehumbert (1980). In an exploratory study, we examined whether speakers maintained the eight-way distinction among intonational contours posited to exist in this representational system. We created eight synthesized contours according to Pierrehumbert (1980) and examined whether listeners generalized these contours to novel productions. Speakers largely distinguished rising from non-rising contours in production, but few other distinctions were maintained. While this does not rule out the existence of additional contours in production, these findings do suggest that the representation of rising and non-rising contours may be privileged and more readily accessible in the intonational grammar.


  • Intonation
  • Nuclear tunes
  • Prosody
  • Speech production
  • ToBI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Signal Processing
  • Software
  • Modeling and Simulation


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