Intonation as an Encoder of Speaker Certainty: Information and Confirmation Yes-No Questions in Catalan

Maria del Mar Vanrell, Ignasi Mascaró, Francesc Torres-Tamarit, Pilar Prieto

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    33 Citations (Scopus)


    Recent studies in the field of intonational phonology have shown that information-seeking questions can be distinguished from confirmation-seeking questions by prosodic means in a variety of languages (Armstrong, 2010, for Puerto Rican Spanish; Grice & Savino, 1997, for Bari Italian; Kügler, 2003, for Leipzig German; Mata & Santos, 2010, for European Portuguese; Vanrell, Mascaró, Prieto, & Torres-Tamarit, 2010, for Catalan). However, all these studies have relied on production experiments and little is known about the perceptual relevance of these intonational cues. This paper explores whether Majorcan Catalan listeners distinguish information- and confirmation-seeking questions by means of two distinct nuclear falling pitch accents. Three behavioral tasks were conducted with 20 Majorcan Catalan subjects, namely a semantic congruity test, a rating test, and a classical categorical perception identification/discrimination test. The results show that a difference in pitch scaling on the leading H tone of the H+L* nuclear pitch accent is the main cue used by Majorcan Catalan listeners to distinguish confirmation questions from information-seeking questions. Thus, while a ¡H+L* pitch accent signals an information-seeking question (i.e., the speaker has no expectation about the nature of the answer), the H+L* pitch accent indicates that the speaker is asking about mutually shared information. We argue that these results have implications in representing the distinctions of tonal height in Catalan. The results also support the claim that phonological contrasts in intonation, together with other linguistic strategies, can signal the speakers' beliefs about the certainty of the proposition expressed. © The Author(s) 2012.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)163-190
    JournalLanguage and Speech
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013


    • Catalan
    • confirmation-seeking questions
    • information-seeking questions
    • tonal perception
    • tonal scaling


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