Poster Title

Accents and Focus Particles Draw Attachment

Grade Level at Time of Presentation

Senior

Institution

Morehead State University

KY House District #

97

KY Senate District #

30

Department

English

Abstract

Accents and Focus Particles Draw Attachment

Joe Castle & Dr. Katy Carlson, English Department

There is growing evidence that pitch accents can affect syntactic attachment in ambiguous sentences (Schafer et al. 1996; Lee & Watson 2011; Carlson & Tyler 2015). One explanation is that the focus status of the accented word makes it important to the main sentence assertion and thus draws attachment (Schafer et al. 1996). Our experiment therefore tested whether other means of focusing words, such as the focus particle only, could also affect attachment.

In the experiment, 20 sentences (e.g., Susie (only) learned that Bill (only) arrived # on Friday) had the focus particle only before V1 (learned) or V2 (arrived); two further conditions also accented the verb with the particle. Participants (N=52) chose between paraphrases showing V1 or V2 attachment of the final adverbial phrase, on Friday (either Susie learned something on Friday or Bill arrived on Friday). Only on V1 led to over 60% V1 attachments; only on V2 led to 35% V1 attachments, a significant difference. Accents on either verb raised V1 attachments slightly. The non-significant effect of accent suggests that focus from one indicator makes another one redundant.

This research shows that in sentences not thought to be focus-sensitive, emphasis indicated by accent or particle position can have important consequences for syntactic structure, and therefore for meaning. This contributes to a broader project of understanding how prosodic factors like emphasis function in sentence processing.

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Accents and Focus Particles Draw Attachment

Accents and Focus Particles Draw Attachment

Joe Castle & Dr. Katy Carlson, English Department

There is growing evidence that pitch accents can affect syntactic attachment in ambiguous sentences (Schafer et al. 1996; Lee & Watson 2011; Carlson & Tyler 2015). One explanation is that the focus status of the accented word makes it important to the main sentence assertion and thus draws attachment (Schafer et al. 1996). Our experiment therefore tested whether other means of focusing words, such as the focus particle only, could also affect attachment.

In the experiment, 20 sentences (e.g., Susie (only) learned that Bill (only) arrived # on Friday) had the focus particle only before V1 (learned) or V2 (arrived); two further conditions also accented the verb with the particle. Participants (N=52) chose between paraphrases showing V1 or V2 attachment of the final adverbial phrase, on Friday (either Susie learned something on Friday or Bill arrived on Friday). Only on V1 led to over 60% V1 attachments; only on V2 led to 35% V1 attachments, a significant difference. Accents on either verb raised V1 attachments slightly. The non-significant effect of accent suggests that focus from one indicator makes another one redundant.

This research shows that in sentences not thought to be focus-sensitive, emphasis indicated by accent or particle position can have important consequences for syntactic structure, and therefore for meaning. This contributes to a broader project of understanding how prosodic factors like emphasis function in sentence processing.