Asking questions with focus

Fang Liu and Yi Xu

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 115, Pt. 2, 2397, 2004

This study investigates how different interrogative meanings interact with focus in determining the overall F0 profile of a question. We recorded eight native speakers of Mandarin producing statements, yes-no questions with and without a question particle, wh-questions, incredulous questions and confirmation questions. In each sentence, either the initial, medial, final, or no word was focused. The tonal components of the sentences are all High, all Rising, all Low or all Falling. F0 contours were extracted by measuring every complete vocal period in the initial, medial and final disyllabic words in each sentence. Preliminary results show that in both statements and questions, the pitch range of the focused words is expanded and that of the post-focus words suppressed (compressed and lowered). However, post-focus pitch range suppression seems less extensive in questions than in statements, and in some question types than in others. Finally, an extra F0 rise is often observed in the final syllable of a question unless the syllable is the question particle which has the neutral tone. This is indicative of a high or rising boundary tone associated with the interrogative meaning, which seems to be superimposed on the tone of the sentence-final syllable. [Work supported by NIDCD DC03902.]

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