Meetings 2008-2009

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Prosodic realization of Information Focus in Wenzhou Chinese

By Franzisca Scholz

The main goal of my project is to find out more about Information Structure, which means the ways in which a speakers guides the hearer through the information he or she is conveying during the speech act. The mechanisms of this phenomenon have primarily been studied for languages that use prosody for this purpose, such as English and Dutch. In these languages, accentuation and deaccentuation of constituents in the sentence are used to direct the hearer’s attention to the most informative parts of an utterance, and it can be assumed that most languages use some aspects of their phonological system to mark this function.
Tone languages, which use prosodic features on the word level to disambiguate meaning distinctions, have proven both a challenging and a fruitful research subject for the investigation of Information Structure: On the one hand, the prosody of the language is for large parts occupied with lexical disambiguation, but on the other hand, tone languages have been shown to use other mechanisms, such as lengthening and voice modality, to mark similar Information Structure categories as European languages.
My investigations center on Wenzhou Chinese, a southern dialect which differs in many respects both from Standard Chinese and from the surrounding dialects of the area. It provides an elaborate tone system on the word level, but as soon as words are combined into sentences, a lot of the underlying tonal distinctions are cancelled out in a process that has been little understood so far. The investigation of this process promises many insights for prosody research, and thereby for the investigation of how Information Structure is conveyed across languages.
During my talk, I will present some first insights gathered from a picture description task that I conducted with a native speaker of Wenzhou, with the aim to find out more about the prosodic realization of Information Structure. My objective is to present the experimental setup with its advantages and disadvantages to further the planning of the experiments for this summer’s field trip to Wenzhou.