Testing contrastive inferences from suprasegmental features using offline measures

Anna Alsop, Elaine Stranahan, Kathryn Davidson


Speakers add modifiers to the extent that they are informative (Grice 1975); studies using the visual world eye-tracking paradigm find that the use of pre-nominal modifiers (short, big) leads listeners to infer the existence of similar objects differing along that same scale (Grodner & Sedivy 2011; Sedivy et al. 1999). In this study, we probe these contrastive inferences using an offline questionnaire, paired with audio/video stimuli to ask whether similar inferences extend to two types of suprasegmental features: prosodic focus and depictive co-speech gestures. Our results suggest that the presence of a scalar adjective robustly leads to contrastive inferences in this offline forced choice paradigm, and that the robustness of the lexical pattern persists even when prosodic focus would indicate otherwise. Prosodic focus does, however, appear to modulate the contrastive effect of a given pre-nominal modifier. We find that the same pragmatic process fails to extend to depictive co-speech gestures, supporting a semantic analysis of these gestures as generally not-at-issue contributions.


contrastive inference; focus; co-speech gesture

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v3i1.4386

Copyright (c) 2018 Anna Alsop, Elaine Stranahan, Kathryn Davidson

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