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Finding referents in time: Eye-tracking evidence for the role of contrastive accents


Braun,  Bettina
Language Comprehension Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Decoding Continuous Speech, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Weber, A., Braun, B., & Crocker, M. W. (2006). Finding referents in time: Eye-tracking evidence for the role of contrastive accents. Language and Speech, 49(3), 367-392.

In two eye-tracking experiments the role of contrastive pitch accents during the on-line determination of referents was examined. In both experiments, German listeners looked earlier at the picture of a referent belonging to a contrast pair (red scissors, given purple scissors) when instructions to click on it carried a contrastive accent on the color adjective (L + H*) than when the adjective was not accented. In addition to this prosodic facilitation, a general preference to interpret adjectives contrastively was found in Experiment 1: Along with the contrast pair, a noncontrastive referent was displayed (red vase) and listeners looked more often at the contrastive referent than at the noncontrastive referent even when the adjective was not focused. Experiment 2 differed from Experiment 1 in that the first member of the contrast pair (purple scissors) was introduced with a contrastive accent, thereby strengthening the salience of the contrast. In Experiment 2, listeners no longer preferred a contrastive interpretation of adjectives when the accent in a subsequent instruction was not contrastive. In sum, the results support both an early role for prosody in reference determination and an interpretation of contrastive focus that is dependent on preceding prosodic context.