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Salveste, Nele (2015): On the pragmatic and semantic functions of Estonian sentence prosody. Dissertation, LMU München: Fakultät für Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften
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Abstract

The goal of the dissertation was to investigate intonational correlates of information structure in a free word order language, Estonian. Information-structural categories such as focus or givenness are expressed by different grammatical means (e.g. pronoun, presence of accent, word order etc.) in different languages of the world (Chafe, 1976; 1987; Prince, 1981; 1992; Lambrecht, 1994; Gundel, 1999). The main cue of focus in intonation languages (e.g. English and German) is pitch accent (Halliday, 1967a; Ladd, 2008). In free word order languages, information structure affects the position of words in a sentence (É. Kiss, 1995) and sometimes it is even implied that word order in a free word order language might function like pitch accent in an intonation language (Lambrecht 1994: 240). The study reports on perception and production experiments on the effects of focus and givenness on Estonian sentence intonation. The aim of the experiments was to establish whether information structure has tonal correlates in Estonian, and if so, whether information structure or word order interacts more strongly with sentence intonation. A perception experiment showed that L1-Estonian listeners perceive pitch prominence as focus and accent shift as a change of sentence focus. A speech production study showed congruently that L1-Estonian speakers do use accent shift, and mark sentence focus with pitch accent. Another speech production experiment demonstrated that there is no phonetic difference between new information focus (e.g. “What did Lena draw?” – “Lena drew a whale.”) and corrective focus (e.g. “Lena drew a lion.” – “No! She drew a whale”). The last experiment showed that given information is signalled with varying F0 range, if followed by focus, but without a pitch accent, if preceded by focus. All the experiments revealed that word order has a weak influence on sentence intonation. Sentence intonation interacts with focus and givenness in Estonian. As a conclusion, it is suggested that the pragmatic functions of word order, which apparently can be overridden by focus interpretation, are slightly different from the functions of pitch accent.

Abstract