[PS-1.66] The role prosody plays in disambiguation - earlier than you thought

Yang, Y. 1, 2 , Gryllia, S. 1 , Pablos, L. 1, 2 , Doetjes, J. 1 & Cheng, L. 1, 2

1 Leiden University Center for Linguistics
2 Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition

In Mandarin, strings of subject-adverb-verb-dianr (a little)-wh-word without context and prosody are ambiguous between a wh-question and a declarative interpretation. In a series of experiments, we examined the role of prosody in disambiguating these structures. We first ran a reading judgment task (Items = 20) where participants (N = 84) were asked to judge strings like the above as questions or declaratives; they judged them 59.7% as questions and 40.3% as declaratives. Then we ran a perception experiment (20 items × 2 clause-types) where participants were asked to listen to the stimuli (the main differences between the two clause-types were duration, and the wh-word pitch) and choose a discourse continuation based on their interpretations. Results showed that participants successfully perceived the clause-type intended by the speaker: 93.9% for questions, and 95.0% for declaratives. Finally, we ran an audio gating experiment with four gates: a (20 subject × 2 clause-types), b (20 subject-adverb × 2 clause-types), c (20 subject-adverb-verb × 2 clause-types) and d (20 subject-adverb-verb-dianr × 2 clause-types). Participants (N = 36) listened to the audio-fragments and chose a declarative or a question as continuation. Results showed that starting from gate a listeners successfully use prosody for disambiguation.