The interface between syntax,
prosody, and information structure:
What we can learn from L2 speech
Maria Luisa Zubizarreta
University of Southern California
October 2009
The grammatical relevance of
discourse-based distinctions.
The focus-presupposition divide
The new-given information divide
Grammatically encoded in terms of a
quantificational structure
Grammatically encoded in terms of anaphora
The topic-comment divide; e.g.
categorical vs. thetic statements
Grammatically encoded in terms of predication.
Grammatical identification
of focus
Scope of focus identified via:
Nuclear Stress --rhythmically most
prominent word in sentence --e.g. Germanic and
Prosodic phrasing --e.g. Bengali (Hayes & Lahiri
1991), Korean (Jun 1993), Chitumbuka (Downing 2006) ,
French (Féry 2001).
Morpho-syntax: syntactic position and
morpho-syntactic markers (e.g. Chinese, WestAfrican languages).
Combination of above mechanisms.
Nuclear Stress and Focus.
The focused constituent must contain the
word with NS (Chomsky 1971, Jackendoff
NSR generates unmarked patterns, i.e.
patterns compatible with wide focus.
Q: What’s new?
A: John broke his leg. vs.
*John broke his leg
Marked prominence patterns:
deaccenting & NS-Shift
 In English (& other lgs), NS aligns with
the Nuclear Pitch Accent (NPA): the last
PA in the Intonational Phrase
 In English, given information gets
deaccented (PA deletion or reduction)
 If deacc constituent is contained within
the focus, NS-Shift applies:
Words with no PA are less prominent than
words with PA (in English)
“Given” within the assertion
“Givenness”: explicit mention.
Q1: Why are you buying that old stamp?
A1: Because I [foc collect stamps].
 “Givenness” inferred from context (Ladd
Q2: Why didn’t you read the article I
gave you?
A2: I [foc can’t read German]
Non-asserted “Given”:
Narrow focus cases
Wide focus:
Q1: What’s new?
A1: [John broke his leg].
 Narrow focus:
Q2 :Who broke his leg?
A2: [foc John ] broke his leg. (VP deacc)
Domain of Nuclear Stress.
A Caveat
Nuclear Pitch Accent aligns with NS.
 In core cases, domain of NS is the
sentence (= Intonational Phrase or InP)
 Symmetry “Sentence = InP” can be
distorted by phonological weight and
length, giving rise to “rephrasing” &
“restructuring” of NS domain.
 Core cases: primary linguistic data for
Determining Nuclear Stress.
Different Views.
Syntactic approaches:
NSR applies directly to the syntactic
structure: Chomsky & Halle 1968, Cinque
1993, Kahnemuyipour 2004
 NSR applies to a “metrically interpreted”
syntactic structure: Halle & Vergnaud 1984,
Zubizarreta 1998, Zubizarreta & Vergnaud
2003, Nava & Zubizarreta 2009, to appear.
Determining Nuclear Stress.
Different Views.
The prosodic phrasing approach (Selkirk
1986, Nespor & Vogel 1986):
Phonological phrase derived from syntactic
structure via mapping algorithms
 Phrasal stress assigned to (right or left)
edge of phonological phrase.
 NS identified as the stress on the last
phonological phrase.
Nuclear Stress: the relevance of
syntactic structure
Adjunct-argument distinction in
Germanic sentences and compounds
(1) a. Hans hat an seinem Papier gearbeitet.
Hans has on his
paper worked
b. Hans hat in seinem Büro gearbeitet.
Hans has in his
office worked (Krifka 1984)
(2)a. tree-eater ‘someone who eats trees’
b. tree-eater ‘someone who eats on a tree’
(3)a. toy-factory ‘factory that makes toys’
b. toy-factory ‘a toy that is a factory’
( Fudge 1984, Selkirk 1984, Giegerich 2004, among others )
Non-Phrase final NS in
Unmarked stress patterns with nonsentence final NS (esp. with unacc verbs)
(1) Why are you so happy?
My friend arrived.
(2) Why are the kids looking outside?
A rabbit appeared. (100%)
(3) What was that crashing sound?
A window broke.
(Schmerling 1976, Selkirk 1984, 1995, Gussenhoven 1984. Exs
from Nava & Zubizarreta’s experimental protocol (in press)).
Nuclear Stress: final vs. nonfinal NS in intransitives
 NS on the subject
 The pizza arrived.
 SV
Adv V  NS rightmost (Gussenhoven
 The
pizza quickly arrived.
Nuclear Stress: the relevance of
semantico-pragmatic factors
 Variability (esp. with unegartive verbs)
(4) How did the party end?
A guest sang. (57%)
A guest sang. (43%)
Pragmatics (predictability & noteworthiness)
(5) Why are those children screaming?
Because a dog is barking.
(6) Why does everybody look so surprised?
Because a dog is singing.
(Exs. from Nava & Zubizarreta’s in press)
Categorical vs. thetic marking
via NS
Categorical/thetic distinction can be marked
via NS in Germanic (Sasse 1987).
 Unacc (due to their lexical semantics) tend
to be construed as thetic (or eventive): SV
 Unergatives tend to be variable: SV
(thetic) or (SV) (categorical)
 Pragmatics (predictability or
noteworthiness) can influence construal
of statement as categorical or thetic
P-phrasing: categorical vs. thetic
No one-to-one correlation between NS
placement and p-phrasing
(S V) ‘my friend arrived’ (unacc)
 (S) (V) ‘a guest sang’
 (S V)
‘a guest sang’
Stress retraction: (ANne Marie BYcicled)
Cf. Inkelas & Zec 1993
Nuclear Stress:
Germanic vs. Romance
Germanic: flexible NS
sentence-final and non-sentence final NS
 variability in the positioning of NS in certain
structures (SV intransitives)
Romance: rigid NS (e.g. Hualde 2006, 2009,
Sosa 1999, Zubizarreta 1998 for Spanish)
phrase-final NS patterns
 no variability
Theticity marking:
Germanic vs. Romance
Categorical / thetic distinction encoded
syntactically in Romance, ie. via word in Span
 VS (thetic) vs. SV (categorical)
 Theticity can also be expressed syntactically in
English (there-construction).
 Cross-linguistic difference remains (not
explainable by discourse-considerations).
 There’s a dolphin swimming.
 Hay un delfin nadando.
The NSR: our view.
A grammatically encapsulated algorithm.
 Generates “unmarked” rhythmic patterns
–compatible with wide focus.
 In Germanic, NSR generates variable
patterns in certain structures.
 Speaker chooses a particular NS
pattern depending on:
 Sentence thetic or categorical;
information highlighting
Cross-linguistic differences:
Prosody of function words
 Prosodic nature of function words at the
heart of the Romance/Germanic NSR
 Germanic: function words may be
unstressed/reduced  functional
categories may be metrically invisible.
 Spanish: function words not reduced
 functional categories metrically
The prosodic status of
(semi)-function verbs.
Non-lexical verbs are intrinsically
unstressed/reduced (Inkelas & Zec 1993)
 Becomes metrically strong: (Altenberg p. 172-3)
If clause final. “Wherever she was, always a
letter came through, asking how she was.”
 If followed by deaccented anaphoric
complement. I […] asked him how he was
doing it.”
 If emphatic. “It had to be a well.”
A two-layer NSR.
NSR applies to a metrically interpreted
syntactic tree & assigns Strong vs. Weak
to sister nodes (Liberman 1975).
 Given two metrical sister nodes A and B:
(i) If A is a head and B is its argument, assign
S(trong) to B. (specific NSR)
(ii) Otherwise, assign S(trong) to the rightmost
constituent node (general NSR).
(Zubizarreta 1998, Zubizarreta & Vergnaud 2003)
Germanic NS patterns.
A metrical analysis.
Nw Tw
a dog is
a dog
Germanic NS patterns.
A metrical analysis.
Nw (T) Advw Vs
The pizza
quickly arrived
Germanic NS patterns
Nw Aspw Vs
I saw a dolphin
NS Asp
I saw a dolphin
Germanic NS: Compositional
‘the hunting of mice’
‘hunting at night’
Anaphoric Deaccenting
 A-deaccenting:
 pitch-range reduction
 interacts directly with discourse
 not gramm constraint
 variable & gradient
Output of A-deacc (as well as Emphasis)
affects metrical structure  NS-Shift.
non-pitch accented syllables always
metrically weaker than pitch-accented ones
Model of Grammar (preliminary)
core syntax
(NSR & other rhythmic rules,
p-phrasing, PA assignment)
Intonational Phonetics
(A- deacc, emphasis, etc)
2 distinct types of phenomena:
Type 1: Phenomena to be described at an
abstract grammatically-encapsulated level
(e.g. NSR)
 Type 2: Phenomena to be described at the
interface level between signal & discourse
(e.g. A-deaccenting, Emphasis)
A-deacc: English vs. Spanish
Spanish does not use A-deacc
No grammatical reason
 Rather, stylistic reasons.
Spanish uses other grammatical
resources instead, such as cliticization
and dislocation.
Typological differences:
Type 1: deeply rooted in the grammar of the
language (e.g. type of NSR depends on the
metrical status of functional categories)
 Type 2: merely stylistic; it has no
grammatical “raison d’être”.
Hypothesis: Type 2 is more amenable
to change than Type 1.
L2 Speech: ideal testing
L1 Spanish/L2 English speech ideal
testing grounds (Nava & Zubizarreta 2009, 2010;
Zubizarreta & Nava to appear)
L1 & L2: Grammars in competition (Yang
Dominant L2 (L2 “acquired”)
 Dominant L1 or oscillation between L1 and
L2 grammar (L2 “not acquired”)
Our L2 study
Production of target-like Germanic NS
(as a measure of acquisition of Germanic
 Production of vowel reduction (as a
measure of metrical invisibility)
 A-deaccenting & NS-shift in wide focus
and narrow focused contexts.
Studies on L2 rhythm
Studies on L2 rhythm: e.g. Carter 2005, White
& Mattys 2007, Carter 2005, Gut 2003
 Gut 2003 investigated L1 rhythmic influence
on vowel duration across populations.
Compared L1 Romance (French, Italian,
Romanian) and L1 English learners of L2 German.
English: general vowel reduction in unstressed syllables.
German: vowel reduction in inflectional morphemes & in
syllables in final position in lexical words
Romance: no vowel reduction.
Gut 2003: L2 vowel duration
Gut’s results:
L1 Romance native populations showed
evidence of L1 transfer via their low level of
vowel reduction in L2 German.
 L1 English natives reduced vowels in more
contexts in German than German natives.
Acquisition of Germanic NS
Acquisition of Germanic NS patterns involves
two aspects: the formal and the functional
 acquisition of metrical invisibility of
functional categories (i.e.Tense)
 measured by production of reduced Aux
 Acquisition of NS as marker of theticity
 measured by distinction between
unacc. (thetic) and unergatives
Timing of acquisition of
Germanic NS & Aux-reduction
Acquisition of metrical invisibility of Aux
is a necessary (although not sufficient)
condition for acquisition of Germanic
 Prediction: acquisition of Auxreduction should precede acquisition
of Germanic NS.
Timing of acquisition of
Germanic NS vs. A-deaccenting
Acquisition of Germanic NS requires
“restructuring” of deep-rooted L1
grammatical properties
 Acquisition of A-deacc requires a stylistic
change (no grammatical restructuring
 Prediction: Acquisition of A-deacc
should precede acquisition of
Germanic NS.
34 English Native Controls (ENCs)
46 Spanish L1/English L2 speakers
Proficiency determined with Cloze test:
Question & Answer (Q&A)
Scripted dialogue between experimenter
and participant.
 Experimental test items:
wide variety of structures in different
information structure contexts
Latin-square design, with two Q&A sets
 Dialogue recorded & analyzed with
PitchWorks by two independent coders.
Coded for presence/absence of pitch
accents and position of Nuclear Pitch
Accent (i.e. last pitch-accented word)
 22 auxiliaries were identified within
experimental test items & coded for
presence or absence of vowel reduction
(contracted Aux and Aux with stressless,
reduced vowel)
Test items: part 1.
12 SV unaccusatives
come (twice), enter, arrive (twice), appear,
escape, vanish, broke, close, open, die.
12 SV unergatives
bark, roar, swim (twice), talk, dance, sing
(twice), smile, run, cry, sneeze.
4 OV compounds
 Each Q&A set: 6 SV unaccusatives, 6
SV unergatives, and 2 OV-compounds.
Results for Cloze-based
proficiency groups.
Effect of L1 (esp. for intermediates)
High Prof: effect of L1 stronger for SV unacc than for
Unacc Sv
97% (0.1)
96% (0.1)
L2 High
36% (0.2)
71% (0.4)
L2 Interm.
4% (0.0)
Unergative SV
8% (0.0)
Unergative SV
42% (0.3)
58% (0.3)
L2 High
39% (0.3)
61% (0.4)
L2 Interm.
16% (0.0)
84% (0.2)
Results for Cloze-based
proficiency groups.
Pair-wise group comparison for Germanic NS.
 All comparisons are significant (<.05)
Unacc. SV
ENC vs. L2
χ2 = 124.84
(p <.001)
χ2 = 15.84
(p <.001)
χ2 = 4.72
(p = .030)
ENC vs. L2
χ2 = 214.77
(p <.001)
χ2 = 78.93
(p <.001)
χ2 = 38.87
(p <.001)
L2 High vs.
L2 Interm.
χ2 = 32.22
(p <.001)
χ2 = 33.63
(p <.001)
χ2 = 18.20
(p <.001)
Results for prosodic-based
proficiency groups.
L2ers regrouped in terms of above-chance
target-production of Germanic NS in unacc SV
and OV-compounds (at least 5 out of 8)
 9 L2ers above chance level of Germanic NS
(+NS group)
 37 L2ers at chance, below chance, or no
Germanic NS (-NS group)
 All L2ers in +NS group tested native-like in
cloze test (70%-75%).
Auxiliary Reduction
All +NS L2ers above 75% of Aux-reduction.
Great variability in the –NS group.
Germanic NS & Aux-reduction.
Individual Analysis.
The function of Germanic NS.
Unacc. vs. Unergatives. Results.
ENC and +NS L2ers: significantly more SV
than SV for unacc, but not for unergatives.
Unergative Unacc.
+ NS L2
+NS L2er
SV vs. SV
χ2 = 1.088 (p = .297)
χ2 = 1.74 (p = .186)
SV vs. SV
χ2 = 107.28 (p < .001) χ2 = 36.99 (p < .001)
Summary & conclusion.
All +NS L2ers produced more than 75% of Aux
Red, but also significant number of –NS L2ers
have 75% or more of Aux Red.
 Acquisition of Aux Red precedes
“acquisition” of Germanic NS.
 +NS L2ers produce signif. more SV than SV
patterns with unacc. than with unergatives.
 +NS L2ers have acquired the function of
Germanic NS (as marker of theticity).
English: Anaphoric-deaccenting
& NS-shift (wide focus contexts)
In English (but not in Spanish), “givenness” can
trigger significant pitch-reduction at the grammardiscourse interface.
If deaccented material includes NS-bearing word, NSShift applies (shifting NS onto metrical sister)
Why are you buying that old stamp?
Because I collect stamps. (75%)
Why are these notebooks missing their covers?
Because I’m drawing pictures on the covers. (88%)
& NS-shift (wide focus)
Q&A protocol contained
 4 transitives with “given” DO
 4 ditransitives with “given” PP
 Above chance-level production of Aanaphoric deacc & NS-shift:
 16 (out of 27) High Prof. learners
 3 Intermediates
 Recall: only 9 High Prof. learners
produced unmarked Germanic NS.
English: Anaphoric-deaccenting &
NS-Shift (narrow focus).
Aligning NS with narrow focus via Adeaccenting & NS-Shift:
Who was crying?
An actress was crying.
 Who arrived?
My friend arrived.
 Who broke his leg?
A boy broke his leg.
& NS-Shift (narrow focus).
L1 Spanish-L2 English (Nava & Zubizarreta’s study)
Based on 4 SV intran (2 unacc and 2 unergatives)
L2ers remarkably accurate.
High Prof. are native-like.
ENC vs. Interm stats signif. (at p<.05 value)
Advanced L2
Interm L2
Summary & Conclusion.
A-deacc is acquired earlier than
Germanic NSR (i.e. easier to acquire)
Lers switch to A-deacc especially early
when it is required for focus-identification
Results support our expectations
regarding ordering of acquisition.
 Anecdotal evidence: English influence
on deacc patterns in Eng-Span
Germanic NS in compounds vs.
sentences. Future research.
Germanic NS at the phrasal level.
 Requires acquisition of metrical
invisibility of functional categories
 Germanic NS in compounds.
Metrical invisibility of functional categories
Expectation: Acquisition of Germanic
NS in compounds precedes acquisition
of Germanic NS in phrases.
Germanic NS in compounds vs.
sentences. Future research.
Germanic NS should be acquired earlier
in compounds than in sentences.
No correlation between Aux reduction &
Germanic NS in compounds.
Prosodic patterns in compounds
serve as cue for acquisition of the
formal part of Germanic NS; i.e.
trigger switch from L1 to L2 algorithm
Appendix. Vowel reduction:
content vs. function words.
“North Wind and the Sun text” (English &
Spanish version)
 Nava et al. 2009:
Extracted & measured vowels using a
“forced alignment” technique from ASR
 Compared vowels in content and function
words in English across 4 groups: ENCs, L2
+NS, L2 –NS, and Span natives.
Vowel reduction: function vs.
content words.
2-way ANOVA: sig. diff. (<.05) between
2 types of vowels for ENC and L2 +NS.
L2 +NS
L2 -NS
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NSF Grant BCS-0444088 (2005-2009).
 USC Provost Fellowship for Advancing
Scholarship in the Humanities & Social
Sciences (2008-2009).
 USC Undergraduate Research
Associates grant (2005-2009).

What L2 speech can teach us about the Prosody