Overriding default interpretations through prosody: Depictive predicates in Brazilian Portuguese

Natália Brambatti Guzzo, Heather Goad


In Brazilian Portuguese, depictive predicates can have ambiguous readings: the attribute can either refer to the subject (high attachment; HA) or the object (low attachment; LA) of the sentence. Previous studies have found that LA is the default interpretation for ambiguous depictive predicates (e.g., Magalhães & Maia 2006, Fonseca & Magalhães 2007), and that speakers use different acoustic cues to signal HA. However, these studies found several mismatches between speakers’ intended intonation and listeners’ interpretations. We conducted a judgement task and a production task to determine which acoustic cues are used by native speakers to arrive at HA interpretation. The results for the judgement task indicate that HA interpretation is favored by pause before attribute (which can be combined with another cue in the attribute). In the production task, speakers can also signal HA by putting a pause before the attribute (which can be combined with another cue in the object). However, some of the participants did not use any acoustic cue to signal HA, which suggests that some speakers arrive at a HA interpretation only through context, not prosody.


structural ambiguity; prosody; acoustic cues; depictive predicates; Brazilian Portuguese

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v2i0.4077

Copyright (c) 2017 Natália Brambatti Guzzo, Heather Goad

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