Ling 814 -- Seminar on the Pragmatics of Prosody
Instructor: Craige Roberts
This seminar will be an intense inquiry into the pragmatics of
prosody, with particular attention to questions related to the
phenomena of Prosodic Focus and the
prosodic marking of Information Structure.
The coursework will be in keeping with the seminar format.
Students will be expected to read an extensive
list of papers, participate in discussion and
lead the discussion of one or two papers.
The written work will consist primarily of preparing
a personal annotated bibliography of readings selected
with the help of the instructor and other class
participants. The motivation for this topic is as follows.
It is obvious that the prosodic contour of an utterance influences
its interpretation. Subtle cues involving rate, rhythm, choice of
tune, pitch range, and volume are important in conveying the speaker's
attitude towards what s/he says, often implicating far more than the
literal content of the utterance. But it has been observed that
sometimes prosody directly influences that literal content itself,
with different prosodic structures yielding different truth conditions
for utterances with the same syntactic structure. This is evident in
the classic examples of Association with Focus, exemplified by the difference
between Rebecca only planted SEEDLINGS in Lottie’s garden vs.
Rebecca only planted seedlings in LOTTIE’s garden. In these examples,
prosodic prominence is roughly indicated by capitalization. The first
might be true even though Rebecca also planted seedlings in her own
garden, making the second false.
The semantics literature over the past twenty years has generally agreed
that the effect of prosodic Focus on truth conditions in Association with
Focus is indirect: it puts constraints on the way that the context of
utterance interacts with interpretation, via restricting the pragmatically
given domain of the operator (only in the above examples). But this
raises a number of other questions, ripe for research:
What features of the prosodic structure of an utterance bear on our
understanding of its Focal properties?
Is the phenomenon of Association with Focus an isolated case, or does
it point to more general insights into the role of prosody in interpretation?
Is there a general explanation for prosodic Focus effects, of which
Association with Focus is but a specific sub-case?
How are prosodic Focus effects related to other prosodic effects on
interpretation? For example, what role does prosody play in conveying
other roles in Information Structure: Topic, Contrastive Topic, Question
under Discussion, etc.? Are the mechanisms involved independent of those
involved in Focus?
What would all this tell us about the structure of the grammar for a
natural language? Assuming that there are independent grammars for
the syntactic structure of a language and for generating its prosodic
contours, how are the resulting structures related?
What does the way that prosody influences interpretation tell us
about what a "context of utterance" is: how it is structured
and how it generally bears on interpretation?
In the semantics literature, it is generally assumed that what is crucial
in Association with Focus for English is the placement of the nuclear
pitch accent (the last pitch accent in the intonation phrase, assuming
a ToBI-transcription of the utterance). But there is growing evidence
from the experimental investigation of prosody to argue that pitch
accent choice is vital, as well. How does pitch accent choice affect
interpretation, and what does this tell us about the compositional
semantic interpretation of an utterance? about the semantics/pragmatics interface?
It has been argued that in some languages (e.g., Japanese), prosodic
Focus is a function not of pitch accent placement, but of prosodic
phrasing and associated pitch range modulation. What is the range
of prosodic features that can bear on interpretation? Are they all
related to compositional semantics in the same indirect fashion as
suggested for prosodic Focus in English and other similar languages?
Making predictions, as opposed to post hoc explanations,
about the influence of prosodic Focus on interpretation requires
a non-ad hoc theory of contextual influence on interpretation,
and in particular, for Association with Focus, a constrained theory of
domain restriction. What does Association with Focus tell us about
how domain restriction works?
A good deal of recent work in formal pragmatics pertains to the
Information Structure of discourse. What role does prosody play
in Information Structure, and how is that mediated by compositional
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