Data for: Three kinds of rising-falling contours in German wh-questions: Evidence from form and function

Published: 20 December 2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/yhv7nmjmgf.1
Katharina Zahner-Ritter


Abstract: The intonational realization of utterances is generally characterized by an abundance of regional as well as inter- and intra-speaker variability in f0. Category boundaries thus remain “fuzzy”, and it is non-trivial how the (continuous) acoustic space maps onto (discrete) pitch accent categories. The present study focuses on three types of rising-falling contours in wh-questions, which differ in the tonal alignment of L(ow) and H(igh) tones with respect to the stressed syllable. Two of these rising-falling contours have been described in different intonational systems in German, with differences in tonal alignment between speakers from Northern vs. Southern Germany. A third contour with a distinct alignment pattern has recently been reported to occur in German rhetorical questions. Here we take a fresh look at nuclear rising-falling contours in German, testing their distinctiveness in form and function under consideration of regional variation. In Experiment 1 (form), we used a delayed imitation paradigm to test whether Northern and Southern German speakers can imitate three distinct rising-falling contours in wh-questions. The three contours presented in the experiment were all nuclear rising-falling contours, modelled after production data: two established pitch accent types, described as L+H* and L*+H in the German ToBI system. L+H* has a high-pitched stressed syllable and a low leading tone aligned in the pretonic syllable and L*+H a low-pitched stressed syllable and a high trailing tone in the posttonic syllable. The third accent had both L and H aligned within the stressed syllable (henceforth, (LH)*, own notation). In Experiment 2 (function), we used a free association task to investigate whether listeners interpret the pragmatic meaning of these three contours differently. Imitation results showed that German speakers – both from the North and the South – re-produced the three contours with a small but significant effect of regional variety such that contours produced by speakers from the North were slightly more distinct than those by speakers from the South. In the meaning task, listeners from both varieties attributed distinct meanings to the (LH)* accent as opposed to the two established ToBI accents (L+H*, L*+H). Taken together, combined evidence from form (Experiment 1) and function (Experiment 2) suggests that three distinct contours can be found in the acoustic and perceptual space of German rising-falling contours. Implications on whether we are dealing with phonological categories or consistent gradual modification that is applied in a meaningful way are discussed. This dataset provides supplementary materials.



Linguistics, Phonetics, Phonology