Röhr, Christine Tanja (2016). The Information Status of Nominal and Verbal Expressions: Intonational Evidence from Production and Perception in German. PhD thesis, Universität zu Köln.


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The overall goal of this thesis is to shed light on the relation between information structure and prosody, in particular with respect to the dimension of given versus new information (givenness or information status). According to the activation cost model proposed by Chafe (1994) and Lambrecht (1994) givenness is defined as the degree of activation of an idea or concept assumed by the speaker to be in the listener’s consciousness at the time of utterance. The concept of activation is actually understood to be potentially continuous. The general aim of this thesis is to find further evidence for the basic assumption that (stepwise) changes in the degree of an entity’s givenness are linguistically reflected in corresponding (stepwise) changes in its degree of prosodic prominence (pronounced activation cost). Evidence for this correlation was obtained by means of production and perception data on read German. Variation in activation or givenness are assumed to be reflected in respective variations in the probability and appropriateness of particular prosodic realizations. This thesis presents two perception experiments on referential givenness and a production experiment plus a follow-up perception experiment on semantic relations between verbs and nouns. In contrast to other experimental approaches on the prosodic marking of givenness, the experimental results of this thesis additionally reveal insights into the coding of givenness by prosodic means alone and the informativeness of verbs. The perception experiments on referential givenness aim to investigate to what extent a range of well-established types of German accents have an effect on the listener’s perception of a referent’s level of givenness, both in sentences in isolation and in context. The main findings are that these different accent types, different accent positions (nuclear, prenuclear) and the presence or absence of accent, significantly influence a referent’s perceived degree of givenness. In particular, results reveal a stepwise decrease in the degree of perceived givenness from deaccentuation and prenuclear accents through low and early peak (falling) nuclear accents to high and rising nuclear accents. Accordingly, the absence of an accent and different accent positions differ in their appropriateness as a prosodic marker of different degrees of givenness (i.e. from given through textually and inferentially accessible to new referents) in German. The production and perception experiments on semantic relations between different parts of speech were used to investigate the encoding and decoding of the informativeness of verbs in German. Pairs of target verbs and nouns were either semantically unrelated (i.e. new) or related to each other in different ways. In a production study eliciting read speech, these differences in semantic relatedness were found to be expressed in the prosodic realization of the target words, with nuclear accents being more frequent on less related targets. This preference was reflected in appropriateness ratings in a follow-up perception study that investigated nuclear accent placement. The experimental results of this thesis reveal, in particular, differences in the pronounced probability and perceived appropriateness of nuclear accent placement (and deaccentuation) as a function of an entity’s information status. These differences provide evidence for the relevance of different intermediate levels of cognitive activation between the active and inactive poles, indicating that the notion of information status involves gradient variations rather than categorical distinctions. Furthermore, the informativeness of verbs has been found to affect the prosodic form of an utterance just like nouns/referents. Hence, results suggest that verbs serve not only as a source for a noun’s level of givenness but can also be assigned an information status themselves. Verbal expressions are not per se referential, but the ideas they express may be activated to a greater or lesser extent at a lexical level, which indicates the need to distinguish between a referential and a lexical level of information status.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD thesis)
CreatorsEmailORCIDORCID Put Code
URN: urn:nbn:de:hbz:38-91466
Date: 12 October 2016
Language: English
Faculty: Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Fächergruppe 1: Kunstgeschichte, Musikwissenschaft, Medienkultur und Theater, Linguistik, IDH > Institut für Linguistik > Phonetik
Subjects: Language, Linguistics
Uncontrolled Keywords:
Information Structure; Information Status; Givenness; Activation Cost; Semantics; Discourse Referents; Referring Expressions; Nouns; Verbs; Prosody; Intonation; Accents; Production; Perception; GermanUNSPECIFIED
Date of oral exam: 11 January 2017
NameAcademic Title
Baumann, StefanPD Dr.
Grice, MartineProf. Dr.
Refereed: Yes
URI: http://kups.ub.uni-koeln.de/id/eprint/9146


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