cSCAN Rounds

Disambiguating the Scope of Negation by Prosodic Cues in Three Varieties of German

Two perception experiments were conducted with subjects from Kiel, Düsseldorf and Vienna to investigate which prosodic means (pause, global f0-contour or local pitch accent) were used (1) to judge the strength of a potential phrasal break and (2) to resolve scope of negation ambiguities in sentences like “Willy does not drink because he is unhappy.” Results revealed that the interpretation varied depending on the task: for the (semantic) scope disambiguation task the global f0-contour proved to be the most decisive factor, whereas the pause turned out to be most influential for the (phonetic) phrasing task. This result implies that the question of how German listeners resolve scope ambiguities cannot simply be attributed to the presence or absence of a phrasal break between the main and subordinate clause. It rather depends on a more general perception of the ‘cohesion’ between the two clauses, indicated by prosodic means. Flat hat contours and late peaks lead to an increase in wide scope interpretations, whereas pointed hats with early peaks are typical of narrow scope readings. The three varieties differed slightly as to their responses to the main cues (pause and contour) but showed different preferences for the local pitch accents.