[PS-3.61] Rhythm influences the processing of double-focus sentences: ERP Evidence from German

Schauffler, N. 1 & Augurzky, P. . 2

1 University of Stuttgart
2 University of Tübingen

Previous studies have shown that rhythmic preferences affect different aspects of sentence production and comprehension. Both speakers and listeners exhibit a preference for rhythmically regular structures.

The present ERP study examines online effects of linguistic rhythm on prosodic focus marking. Specifically, we investigated whether readers avoid directly-adjacent (i.e. clashing) pitch accents while silently reading German sentences with double-focus.

We presented question-answer pairs eliciting two pitch accents on adjacent (focused) nouns and manipulated the rhythmic context: while the first focused noun always had final lexical stress, the second noun had initial stress in the clash condition, and was stressed on the second syllable in the no-clash condition.

Compared to a single-focus control condition with a given noun in the second position, both double-focus conditions (clash and no-clash) elicited an N400 on the second noun. We interpret this as a response to the more complex discourse-structure leading to a contrastive pitch accent that is unexpected. The N400 amplitude was significantly greater for the no-clash condition where the rhythmic context facilitates a fully contrastive pitch accent. In the clash condition, where a pitch accent is rhythmically dispreferred, the smaller N400 amplitude suggests that readers silently realize only a reduced accent.