Semantic-context effects on lexical stress and syllable prominence

Felicitas Kleber and Oliver Niebuhr, University of Munich

In the present study we investigated the effect of semantic context on the perception of words that differ only in the lexical stress pattern. Our study was based on the disyllabic German word AUGUST. Depending on whether the lexical stress is on the first or the second syllable the word refers to either a name or a month. By means of a forced-choice ident-ification experiment we tested to what extent the lexical stress-position is triggered by the semantic context and by local phonetic cues. The stimuli that constituted a 7-step continuum from ‘August to Au’gust were appended to different word lists containing another name and another month, i.e. context words that were semantically related to either the name ‘August or the month Au’gust. Results showed that the perceptual bound-ary between ‘August and Au’gust was shifted according to the semantics of the adjacent context word. This semantic-context effect was present for both ambiguous and clear phonetic prominence cues in AUGUST.