The Prosodic Realization of Negation in Saisiyat and English

By Chiang, Wen-yu; Chang-Liao, I. et al. | Oceanic Linguistics, June 2006 | Go to article overview

The Prosodic Realization of Negation in Saisiyat and English


Chiang, Wen-yu, Chang-Liao, I., Chiang, Fang-mei, Oceanic Linguistics


This study investigates the prosodic realization of negation in Saisiyat, an endangered aboriginal Austronesian language of Taiwan, and compares the prosodic properties of its affirmative and negative sentences with those of British English. In order to test Yaeger-Dror's "Cognitive Prominence Principle," according to which cognitively prominent items (such as negators) should be prosodically marked, we measure the [F.sub.o] peak, the intensity peak, and duration of lexical items appearing in affirmative and negative sentences. Our results indicate that sentential subjects are the most acoustically prominent items with respect to [F.sub.o] height and intensity in Saisiyat negative sentences, whereas the negator itself is the most acoustically prominent item with respect to [F.sub.o] in an English sentence. In addition, the presence of a negator does not significantly change the prosodic parameters of contiguous words in Saisiyat. English, in contrast, exhibits relatively large-scale prosodic differences in both [F.sub.o] and intensity between affirmative and negative sentences. This paper suggests that the following typological features can account for the differences observed between Saisiyat and English: (1) the relationship between prosodic prominence and syntactic subjects in Saisiyat, (2) transparency of the negation system in Saisiyat, and (3) the relationship between prosodic prominence and semantically defined focus in English.

1. INTRODUCTION. (1) Cross-linguistically, negation can be realized by means of syntactic marking, prosodic marking, or a combination of the two, depending on the prosodic characteristics of the language in question. Syntactically, a language can use a single negatorto express negation, such as not in English, or it can use various negators for different syntactic structures, such as those found in the Austronesian languages of Taiwan. Negation can also be marked prosodically. For example, Yaeger-Dror (2002) found that the [F.sub.o] (fundamental frequency) of English "not" and French "pas" are higher than the [F.sub.o] of surrounding words. The current literature suggests that the combination of prosodic and syntactic marking of negation is relatively common; the use of only prosodic marking to realize negation, in contrast, is relatively rare (for a detailed discussion, see Remijsen 2003).

The question of whether a negator is invariably more prominent acoustically than its surrounding words, however, remains unresolved. Semantically, negators generally contribute focused or new information to a sentence; for this reason, they assume "focal prominence" (Yaeger-Dror 2002:1496). Both theoretical (Horn 2001, I(adman 2001) and empirical studies (Hirschberg 1990, 1993) (2) support the claim that negators contribute salient information to the discourse; it is thus likely that the information they convey is also cognitively prominent. According to the "Cognitive Prominence Principle" (Yaeger-Dror 2002), acoustic prominence enhances discourse participants' attention to focused items, which maximizes the effectiveness of communication. Based on Bolinger's (1978) claim that prosodic marking of focused information is a linguistic universal, cognitively prominent items should therefore also be prosodically salient. Cutler, Dahan, and Donselaar (1997) proposed a "Cognitive Prominence Corollary," according to which "a prosodically nonprominent token of a highly significant word is quite unlikely" (as cited in Yaeger-Dror 2002:1497)

Despite the wide range of cross-linguistic variation in the prosodic realization of negators (see Yaeger-Dror 2002 for a comprehensive review), acoustic evidence has been found to support the "Cognitive Prominence Principle." In O'Shaughnessy and Allen (1983), measurement of the [F.sub.o] values produced by speakers within negative sentences determined that the [F.sub.o] of negators was usually higher than that of contiguous lexical items. However, they found the [F.

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