A multi-level approach to focus, phrasing and intonation in French

Abstract : Much recent work on German and English intonation has addressed the impact of information structure on prosodic patterns in terms of the focus/background partition. In contrast with stress-accent languages such as Italian, Spanish or English, French does not appear to signal focus through pitch accent assignment, rather it appears to mainly exploit prosodic edge marking for the same purposes. The fact that prosodic phrasing is highly sensitive to focus structure is not only true for French, but also for pitch accent languages such as Japanese and Basque (see Gussenhoven 2004 for a discussion), as well as for stress-accent languages (Beckmann & Pierrehumbert 1986). A previous analysis (Féry 2001) has proposed that French largely exploits phrasing in order to signal focus, and that narrow and contrastive focus "lead to an initial boundary tone, usually high". Here we attempt to build on Féry's insight by showing that, while phrasing is one of the strategies that French adopts in order to signal focus, phrasing cues are different when either the left or the right edge of the focal domain are taken into account. Our findings show that initial LHi rises are associated with the left edge of contrastive focus regions in French, and may therefore serve an important marking function. Crucially, phrase length also contributed to the distribution of LHi, suggesting a probabilistic integration of factors from different levels.
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Mariapaola d'Imperio, James German, Amandine Michelas. A multi-level approach to focus, phrasing and intonation in French. Prosody and Meaning, De Gruyter Mouton, pp.11-34, 2012. ⟨hal-00743678⟩

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