The Effect of Distal Prosody on the Perception of Word Stress



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Prosody describes the musical qualities of speech, including the perceived rhythm of speech and the perceived pitch and duration of individual words and phrases. Recent research has found evidence that distal (i.e., non-local) prosodic characteristics of speech influence how listeners segment words from continuous speech (Dilley & McAuley, 2008; Dilley, Mattys, & Vinke, 2010; Brown, Salverda, Dilley, & Tanenhaus, 2012; Breen, Dilley, McAuley, & Sanders, submitted). Studies of implicit prosody have also examined its effects on the perception of word stress, particularly in situations in which the location of the stressed syllable in a word changes its lexical category, as in the case of stress-alternating noun-verb homographs like produce, which is a noun as PROduce and a verb as proDUCE (Breen & Clifton, 2010). The current project investigated the hypothesis that distal prosodic characteristics of speech can serve to influence listeners’ perception of the location of stressed syllables in these words, thereby influencing word identification. The researchers tested this prediction by having participants listen to one of two possible recordings of a sentence fragment that ended with a stress alternating noun-verb homograph, and then asking them to provide a continuation of the sentence. Crucially, the sentence fragment was ambiguous with respect to the meaning of the homograph, as in “Mothers know the good produce….” The pitch and duration of the beginning of the sentence varied across conditions, while the pitch pattern of the homograph was identical in both. Completion data demonstrated that, as predicted, this distal prosodic manipulation had a significant effect on how the ambiguous homographs were perceived. These results demonstrate not only the generalizability of the distal prosodic effect, but also that word stress is in part determined by the prosodic context in which words appear.



Psychology, Distal Prosody, Word Stress, Perception, Homographs