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      The influence of information status on the prosody of sentence topics

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      Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
      Open Library of the Humanities

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          Abstract

          In a production experiment on German we investigated the prosodic effects of informativeness (comprising information status and contrast) on sentence-initial referents, i.e. sentence topics. While referents in sentence-final position usually receive the nuclear accent of the utterance, commonly defined as the last and information-structurally crucial pitch accent in an intonation unit, sentence topics in German often carry a prenuclear accent. However, the status of prenuclear accents is still unclear: are they just “ornamental” or do they express meaning differences? We expected to find a direct relationship between the informativeness of a sentence topic and its prosodic prominence but the hypothesis could only be confirmed to a very limited extent. Results show that informativeness does not affect the accent type of sentence-initial referents, as they are consistently marked by rising prenuclear accents, even on given items. Only the parameter duration shows a main effect of informativeness in the expected direction, since contrastive referents proved to be longer than given ones. In general, and surprisingly, however, contrastive topics are mostly produced as prosodically less prominent than non-contrastive items that are either given, accessible or new. An explanation that holds for our data set may be that the contrast is already expressed by a parallel syntactic structure, which speakers often realize prosodically by a flat hat pattern. We conclude that prenuclear accents on sentence- initial referents are consistently placed for rhythmic reasons in German and that their prosodic form is only slightly influenced by a referent’s level of informativeness.

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
                Open Library of the Humanities
                2397-1835
                June 27 2019
                September 10 2021
                : 35
                : 1
                Affiliations
                [1 ]University of Cologne
                Article
                10.16995/glossa.5871
                ab9d70aa-59f5-40c4-b0ee-d1328f091286
                © 2021

                https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

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                Self URI (article page): https://www.glossa-journal.org/article/id/5871/

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