Intonation, rhythm, and the melody of language are among the first aspects of speech that infants attend to and produce themselves. What is more, in order to grasp the full literal and social meaning of an utterance, syntactic and semantic information is not enough - intonation and prosodic modulations must be taken into account. Yet, prosodic features are among the last to be mastered by both L1 and (adult) L2 learners both in utterance production and comprehension. This is because, despite being very useful in everyday communication, the actual use of intonational and prosodic cues itself appears to be highly variable (both at the phonological and phonetic level, and both within and between speakers of the same variety), probabilistic, and dependent on the presence vs. absence of various contextual cues. Moreover, we still do not know how high-level linguistic knowledge rapidly combines with prosodic information, or how and when low-level acoustic suprasegmental information (pitch, duration, voice quality, loudness) integrates with syntactic and contextual cues.
In the first part of this talk I will first briefly review some studies on the variable production of intonational features in Italian (tonal alignment) and French (focus and sarcasm), and I will go on to present some recent results on the effect of acoustic-prosodic cues on syntactic parsing and pragmatic interpretation in French offline perception studies. Finally, I will present an ongoing ERP study on the timecourse of the integration of intonational cues and linguistic context in sarcastic speech. This is joint work with Francesco Cangemi, Maud Champagne-Lavau, James German, Amandine Michelas, Oliver Niebuhr and Caterina Petrone.
Mariapaola D'Imperio is Professor of Phonetics and Phonology and and Director of the “Groupe Transversal Prosodie” (GTP) at the Laboratoire Parole et Langage (CNRS), Aix-Marseille Université. She is also Director of the Master’s Program in Linguistics at Aix-Marseille. Her main research interests include: intonational phonology, prosody and sentence comprehension in Romance Languages, and intonation production and perception.