The role of pitch range in establishing intonational contrasts in Catalan

Joan Borràs-Comes, Maria del Mar Vanrell, Pilar Prieto, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

In Catalan, the same rising nuclear pitch accent L+H* is used in three different sentence-types, namely statements, contrastive foci, and echo questions. Since the peak height of the rising pitch accent seems to indicate sentence type, we hypothesized that these three pragmatic meanings would be indicated by pitch accent range. We undertook two identification tasks and analyzed the patterns of responses found and the reaction time measures (RTs). The results of the identification tasks show that there is a contrast between the statement interpretation on the one hand (L+H*) and the contrastive foci and echo question interpretation on the other (L+¡H*). However, RTs clearly show that while there is a categorical difference between the statement interpretation (L+H*) and the echo question interpretation (L+¡H*), the difference between a statement interpretation a contrastive focus interpretation is gradual. This fact represents further evidence that pitch range can be used to make phonological distinctions between a variety of pragmatic meanings, and strengths the arguments that this needs to be represented at the phonological level.