Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Audience Design Affects Acoustic Reduction Via Production Facilitation

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Audience Design Affects Acoustic Reduction Via Production Facilitation

Article excerpt

Abstract In this article, we examine the hypothesis that acoustic variation (e.g., reduced vs. prominent forms) results from audience design. Bard et al. (Journal of Memory and Language 42:1-22, 2000) have argued that acoustic prominence is unaffected by the speaker's estimate of addressee knowledge, using paradigms that contrast speaker and addressee knowledge. This question was tested in a novel paradigm, focusing on the effects of addressees' feedback about their understanding of the speaker's intended message. Speakers gave instructions to addressees about where to place objects (e.g., the teapot goes on red). The addressee either anticipated the object, by picking it up before the instruction, or waited for the instruction. For anticipating addressees, speakers began speaking more quickly and pronounced the word the with shorter duration, demonstrating effects of audience design. However, no effects appeared on the head noun (e.g., teapot), as measured by duration, amplitude, and perceived intelligibility. These results are consistent with a mechanism in which evidence about addressee understanding facilitates production processes, as opposed to triggering particular acoustic forms.

Keywords Acoustic prominence . Reference . Language production . Audience design . Prosody

Spoken words vary in their degrees of acoustic prominence, or intelligibility. Words that are given (e.g., repeated) or predictable in context tend to be acoustically reduced, whereas new or unpredictable words are often acoustically prominent. Acoustic reduction can be signaled by shorter duration, reduced pitch or pitch variation, reduced intensity, and lower intelligibility (Wagner & Watson, 2010).

Although such variation abounds, the mechanisms behind it are not fully understood. An unresolved question is whether the variation reflects audience design. Extensive evidence has shown that speakers select linguistic forms on the basis of the knowledge, intentions, or goals of their addressee (e.g., Brennan & Clark, 1996). However, the extent of addressee-oriented production is heavily debated, and some production processes proceed without reference to the addressee's knowledge (e.g., Ferreira & Dell, 2000; Horton & Keysar, 1996). Here we examine the role of audience design on acoustic prominence and consider how audience design relates to utterance planning.

An audience-design explanation states that acoustic variation serves the needs of the addressee. Acoustically prominent pronunciations are used when the word is harder to understand in context, as new or unpredictable words are (Lindblom, 1990; Wright, 2004; see Smiljanic & Bradlow, 2009). This proposal is related to the view that speakers follow pragmatic rules based on a word's information status, for example selecting reduced forms for topical, given, and predictable words, but prominent forms for new information (Halliday, 1967).

By contrast, the speaker-internal view of acoustic variation is based on the observation that reduction tends to happen in situations in which production is facilitated. Previously mentioned material is easier to mention again, because representations in the production system (e.g., conceptual, lexical, and articulatory) have recently been activated. Likewise, when a word is probable or supported by the context, its lexical representation is likely to receive an activation boost (e.g., Balota et al., 1989; Bell, Brenier, Gregory, Girand, & Jurafsky, 2009). Referential predictability also matters: When a referent is expected, the conceptual representation is likely preactivated, and utterance planning can begin earlier (Kahn & Arnold, 2012; Watson, Arnold, & Tanenhaus, 2008).

Distinguishing these views is difficult, because the same contexts favor attenuation for both speaker and addressee. Indeed, information-theoretic theories suggest that reduction strikes a balance between the comprehension needs of the listener and the efficiency of the production system (Aylett & Turk, 2004). …

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