Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Repetition Is Easy: Why Repeated Referents Have Reduced Prominence

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Repetition Is Easy: Why Repeated Referents Have Reduced Prominence

Article excerpt

The repetition and the predictability of a word in a conversation are two factors that are believed to affect whether it is emphasized: Predictable, repeated words are less acoustically prominent than unpredictable, new words. However, because predictability and repetition are correlated, it is unclear whether speakers lengthen unpredictable words to facilitate comprehension or whether this lengthening is the result of difficulties in accessing a new (nonrepeated) lexical item. In this study, we investigated the relationship between acoustic prominence, repetition, and predictability in a description task. In Experiment 1, we found that repeated referents are produced with reduced prominence, even when these referents are unexpected. In Experiment 2, we found that predictability and repetition both have independent effects on duration and intensity. However, word duration was primarily determined by repetition, and intensity was primarily determined by predictability. The results are most consistent with an account in which multiple cognitive factors influence the acoustic prominence of a word.

In conversation, certain words stand out more than others. Acoustically, these words are prominent because they are produced with greater intensity, a higher fundamental frequency (f 0), or longer duration than expected. Traditionally, prosodic prominence has been described in two different ways. In one tradition, prominence is defined by a linguistic construct called a pitch accent, which occurs on words that are new or focused. Pitch accents are typically marked with a change in f 0, and different types of pitch accents play different roles in the discourse (e.g., Pierrehumbert, 1980; Pierrehumbert & Hirschberg, 1990). Prominence has also been described in terms of its acoustic-phonetic form: Prominence correlates with increases in fundamental frequency (f 0), duration, intensity, and intelligibility (Bard et al., 2000; Bell, Brenier, Gregory, Girand, & Jurafsky, 2009; Bell et al., 2003; Fowler & Housum, 1987; Jurafsky, Bell, Gregory, & Raymond, 2001; Watson, Arnold, & Tanenhaus, 2008). These different correlates of prominence often covary; however, they do not perfectly co-occur (e.g., Bard et al., 2000). Within this tradition, variation in the acoustic form has typically been discussed in terms of the word or syllable's predictability or in terms of the psychological factors that play a role in producing or understanding the word. In the present study, we investigated which factors drive apparent effects of predictability and discourse on acoustic prominence and examined whether effects of redundancy on acoustic prominence are a result of speakers' altering their speech to maintain a uniform information profile or whether these effects are linked to language production retrieval and preparation processes.

A number of factors have been shown to correlate with prominence, such as repetition (Aylett & Turk, 2004; Bard et al., 2000; Bard & Aylett, 1999; Bell et al., 2009; Fowler & Housum, 1987; Pluymaekers, Ernestus, & Baayen, 2005a), frequency (Fosler-Lussier & Morgan, 1999; Gregory, Raymond, Bell, Fosler-Lussier, & Jurafsky, 1999; Jurafsky et al., 2001; Pluymaekers, Ernestus, & Baayen, 2005b), and transitional probability (Bell et al., 2009; Jurafsky et al., 2001; Kidd & Jaeger, 2008). For example, Fowler and Housum found that previously mentioned words in a corpus of recorded speech are shorter and less intelligible than words that have not been previously mentioned. Similarly, in recorded speech generated from a referential communication task, Bard and Aylett found that repeated words are less intelligible to listeners than are nonrepeated words, and other work has shown that listeners interpret prominence as a cue to new information in online sentence processing (e.g., Dahan, Tanenhaus, & Chambers, 2002). Lexical frequency is also linked with prominence (Zipf, 1929). …

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