Prosodic differences between rhetorical and information-seeking questions in Standard Chinese

Published: 11-01-2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/49nvs73y35.1
Yiya Chen,
Nicole Dehé,
Bettina Braun


The present study compares the prosody of string-identical information-seeking (ISQs) and rhetorical questions (RQs) in Standard Chinese, in polar and wh-questions. Standard Chinese has four lexical tones and is hence a prime candidate for studying interactions between lexical tone and post-lexical intonation. In a production study, ten Standard Chinese speakers from the Beijing area read short context descriptions (intended to trigger an ISQ or an RQ reading), and subsequently produced target interrogatives. Results reveal RQs to be overall lower in f0, preserving the shape of the lexical tone. Syllables carrying Tone 3 showed the smallest difference in f0 between illocution types, however. Additionally, RQs had longer durations than ISQs and showed more instances of glottalized voice, mainly towards the end of the interrogative. Post-hoc correlation analyses with f0, duration, and voice quality as dependent variables indicated that the cues to RQs are modified together, rather than compensating for each other. Hence, similar to intonation languages, Standard Chinese uses prosody (f0, duration, and voice quality) to distinguish between illocution type (ISQ vs. RQ). Our findings suggest f0, duration, and voice quality to be cross-linguistic signals of rhetorical meaning; their implementation is language-specific.