Capturing Cross-linguistic Differences in Macro-rhythm: The Case of Italian and English
Busà, Maria Grazia
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Polyanskaya, L., Busà, M. G., & Ordin, M. (2020). Capturing Cross-linguistic Differences in Macro-rhythm: The Case of Italian and English. Language and Speech, 63(2), 242–263. https://doi.org/10.1177/0023830919835849
We tested the hypothesis that languages can be classified by their degree of tonal rhythm (Jun, 2014). The tonal rhythms of English and Italian were quantified using the following parameters: (a) regularity of tonal alternations in time, measured as durational variability in peak-to-peak and valley-to-valley intervals; (b) magnitude of F0 excursions, measured as the range of frequencies covered by the speaker between consecutive F0 maxima and minima; (c) number of tonal target points per intonational unit; and (d) similarity of F0 rising and falling contours within intonational units. The results show that, as predicted by Jun’s prosodic typology (2014), Italian has a stronger tonal rhythm than English, expressed by higher regularity in the distribution of F0 minima turning points, larger F0 excursions, and more frequent tonal targets, indicating alternating phonological H and L tones. This cross-language difference can be explained by the relative load of F0 and durational ratios on the perception and production of speech rhythm and prominence. We suggest that research on the role of speech rhythm in speech processing and language acquisition should not be restricted to syllabic rhythm, but should also examine the role of cross-language differences in tonal rhythm.