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Monday, November 5, 2012

Spanish Lecture on Experimental Approaches to the Prosody-Pragmatics Interface

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese presents "Experimental Approaches to the Prosody-Pragmatics Interface in Spanish" with University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Rajiv Rao. The lecture will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 13th from 3-4pm in 121 Folwell Hall.

Experimental pragmatics is an area of linguistic study that has received increased attention in recent years. When exploring the prosody of speech acts, one advantage of a controlled approach is that it allows us to examine how identical utterances' duration, intensity and pitch vary based on an isolated pragmatic condition. For two such pragmatic conditions -- expressions of sarcasm and complaint -- very little previous research exists on Spanish, especially regarding prosodic measures of their production. Inspired by the aforementioned ideas, this presentation discusses the prosody-pragmatics interface in two studies on Mexican Spanish: one on sarcasm versus sincerity; and the other on the production of complaints based on differences in social distance between interlocutors. In both experiments, speakers who are non-naïve to the intonational trends of Spanish produced context-appropriate variations of the same utterances based on a series of hypothetical situations. In the first study, a sarcastic attitude showed significant effects at the sentence level through reductions in both speed of speech and pitch range. At the word level, words that were particularly relevant in expressing both sarcasm and sincerity were manifested with increases in stressed syllable duration and pitch, both of which cued following phrase boundaries. These stressed syllables were even further lengthened in sarcastic utterances. In the second experiment, sentence and word level effects were also clearly present at both the sentence and word level. In sentences, social distance led to decreases in mean intensity and pitch, as well as pitch range, while in words, the same distance resulted in lower stressed syllable duration, intensity, and pitch peaks. In sum, the decreases in prosodic variables serve as 'prosodic downgraders' that soften the force of complaints when social distance is present. Expanding upon the aforementioned results, the conclusion of this presentation addresses gender differences, theoretical implications, minor methodological differences between the experiments, and finally, directions for similar future work.
Professor Rao teaches courses on phonetics, phonology, and general linguistics, and is also an affiliate member of UW's Second Language Acquisition Program. Within phonetics and phonology, his research focuses on intonation and prosody, with his main areas being: prosodic phrasing of speech, phonetic manifestations of stress, production and perception of intonational focus, and prosodic dialectal variation. He is also interested in Creole languages and the perception, production, and teaching of intonation with respect to second language learners of Spanish.

Sponsored by: Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, European Studies Consortium and The Institute of Linguistics

Click here for an event flyer.