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Poster A69, Wednesday, November 8, 10:30 – 11:45 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Processing of contrastive pitch accent in native and L2 English speakers

Aleuna Lee1, Lauren Stookey1, Edith Kaan1;1University of Florida

Previous research on sentence processing has suggested a role of prosodic information like contrastive pitch accent as a cue to define a focus set and restrict upcoming referents (Eberhart et al., 1995; Dahan et al., 2002; Ito & Speer, 2008). The aim of the present ERP study was to investigate the use of contrastive pitch accent during comprehension of English discourse in native (N = 27) and Mandarin-Chinese second-language (L2) speakers of English (N = 17). EEG was recorded while participants listened to short passages in English starting with context sentences (e.g., "Josephine and Gregory are always helpful. They offered us transportation.") followed by four types of critical sentence that differed in the presence of pitch accent on the second proper noun and types of object mentioned. (Sample stimuli: (a) No accent, Different: "We took Josephine's car but left Gregory's bike in the garage"; (b) Accent, Different: "We took Josephine's car but left GREGORY's bike in the garage"; (c) No accent, Same: "We took Josephine's bike but left Gregory’s bike in the garage"; (d) Accent, Same: "We took Josephine's bike but left GREGORY's bike in the garage"). The second proper noun ("Gregory’s") either carried a contrastive pitch accent (b, d), or did not (a, c); the following noun ("bike") was either different (a, b) or the same (c, d) as the object mentioned previously. If listeners use contrastive pitch accent to anticipate a reference to a previously mentioned type of object, the reference to a different object in (b) should lead to integration difficulty, whereas in (c) the repetition of the noun should be perceived as infelicitous without prosodic marking. Overall, our results showed that both groups of participants were sensitive to prosodic prominence; however, the groups differed in how they used such information. Native English speakers showed a positivity between 200-500 ms for accented versus non-accented proper nouns ("Gregory’s"), while such effect was only numerically present in the L2 speakers. When the proper name was accented and the following noun referred to a different object (b), ERPs to the second object ("bike") showed a fronto-centrally distributed negativity between 200-500 ms, resembling the NREF for referential difficulty (Van Berkum et al., 2003). When the proper name was accented and the noun was repeated (d), the N400 at the noun ("bike") was most reduced compared to the other three conditions in native speakers of English. Consistent with previous research, such N400 effects demonstrated semantic facilitation when felicitous intonation was presented, and difficulty with an inappropriate pitch accent (Sedivy et al., 1995; Ito & Speer, 2008). On the other hand, the fronto-central effect and the N400 were most pronounced in the L2 speakers when the proper noun was not accented and followed by a different object (a), whereas the fronto-ce! ntral effect was most reduced in the No-accent, Same condition (c). This suggests that Mandarin-Chinese L2 English speakers have a strong preference for a continuation with the same type of object; and interpret contrastive accent as licensing reference to different objects.

Topic Area: Meaning: Prosody, Social and Emotional Processes

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