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Poster A71, Wednesday, November 8, 10:30 – 11:45 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

The role of prosody on processing wh-questions and wh-declaratives: An auditory ERP study

Yang Yang1,2, Leticia Pablos1,2, Stella Gryllia1, Niels Schiller1,2, Lisa Cheng1,2;1Leiden University Center for Linguistics, 2Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition

[INTRODUCTION] Previous behavioral studies showed that clause-type (question or declarative) is prosodically marked and listeners can identify clause-type based on prosody. Nonetheless, little is known about how exactly prosody influences the clause-type identification and how early prosody plays a role in processing. We fill this gap by conducting an auditory ERP study on Mandarin wh-questions, their string-identical wh-declaratives (declaratives containing wh-words) and the cross-spliced cases from the wh-word onwards. The reasons we chose this paradigm are: 1) Mandarin wh-questions and wh-declaratives offer a good test case for prosodic marking of clause-types, as Mandarin is not only a wh-in-situ language where wh-words remain at their base positions but also a wh-indeterminate language where the same wh-word such as shénme can have both interrogative (‘what’) and non-interrogative interpretations (‘something’). 2) Our previous production and perception studies show that wh-questions and wh-declaratives are marked by different prosody, in particular the wh-word shénme (a high pitch and expanded pitch range in questions while a low and flat pitch in declaratives) and that listeners can identify clause-type by hearing shénme accurately. [PRESENT STUDY] An ERP study was conducted with 24 Mandarin native speakers listening to sentences preceded by contexts (2-3 sentences) that bias towards either wh-questions or wh-declaratives. The contexts in each set are only different at the final sentence (i.e., ‘XX asked:’ biases towards a question versus ‘This is something XX is sure of:’ biases towards a declarative). After cross-splicing the auditory recording of wh-questions and wh-declaratives from shénme onwards, we obtained four conditions in each set: (a) Declarative-biased context, wh-declarative prosody (subject-adverb-verb-diǎnr-shénme-prepositional phrase). (b) Wh-question-biased context, wh-question prosody (sub.-adv.-verb-diǎnr-shénme-pp). (c) Declarative-biased context, wh-declarative prosody (sub.-adv.-verb-diǎnr) cross-spliced with wh-question prosody (shénme-pp). (d) Wh-question-biased context, wh-question prosody (sub.-adv.-verb-diǎnr) cross-spliced with wh-declarative prosody (shénme-pp). By comparing anomalous condition (c) with (a) and anomalous condition (d) with (b), we expect to find prosodic mismatch effects such as early anterior negativities or RAN effects. In addition to prosody-related effects, we may also find N400 effects in (c) and (d), if the semantic violation based on prosody is immediately detected (i.e., in condition (c) shénme with high pitch and expanded pitch range associated with the interrogative interpretation (‘what’) is in violation with the expected non-question interpretation). [RESULTS & DISCUSSION] Repeated Measure ANOVA analyses showed that when comparing cross-spliced condition (c) with (a), the critical word shénme in (c) elicited negativities in the 200-400ms time-window in the anterior region. The 200-400ms anterior negativities can be interpreted as an early detection of prosodic mismatch in the cross-spliced conditions, which offers evidence for the early and essential role of prosody in processing wh-questions and wh-declaratives. It is of interest that we did not find any significant differences by comparing cross-spliced condition (d) with (b). We interpreted this as a possibility that participants accommodate anomalous condition (d) easily into wh-questions and thus no mismatch effects were observed. As questions and declaratives do not seem to be accommodated the same way, further work needs to be done to investigate this asymmetry in accommodating clause-types.

Topic Area: Perception: Auditory

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