Recognizing focus in noise filled sentences

Ching X. Xu and Yi Xu

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 113, p. 2327, 2003

This study is designed to help identify the intrinsic constituents of focus. Twelve four-word Mandarin sentences were recorded by a native speaker five times, each time either with focus on one of the words, or without any focus. Then, one, two or three words in each sentence produced by the speaker were replaced by pink noise. The noise-filled sentences were presented to subjects along with the text. The subjects' task was to determine if the sentence had a focus, and if yes, on which word. Ten native Mandarin speakers participated as subjects. Their performance was compared across noise replacement conditions. It was found that, when both on-focus and post-focus words were present, focus could be recognized consistently. When only the focused word was present, focus could be recognized fairly well unless the focus position was sentence final, in which case it was not very distinct from no focus. When post-focus word(s) was(were) left intact while focused words were replaced by noise, focus could still be detected successfully, but its exact localization was sometimes judged wrong. These results seem to support the dual-component hypothesis about focus. Further implications of the findings will be discussed.

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