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Doctoral dissertation project of Janne Lorenzen


Individual variability in the encoding and decoding of prosodic prominence relations (Working title)

Prominence in speech can be understood as a means of highlighting information deemed important for a conversation by the speaker relative to other constituents of the utterance. This highlighting is encoded through a multitude of cues, on the one hand, phonetic parameters, e.g., modulations of pitch, duration and loudness produced across the utterance, and on the other hand, aspects relating to the syntactic and pragmatic structure of an utterance, such as givenness and grammatical function. Since the speaker can choose from all these cues to encode prominence, variability almost inevitably emerges as different speakers put emphasis on different cues. Conversely, the redundant encoding of prominence paves the way for individual variability in perception as listeners may choose which ones of the multiple cues they make use of in order to interpret speaker intentions. For instance, some listeners may rely more on prosodic cues, while others predominantly make use of pragmatic and lexical features.

Much work in intonation, as in other linguistic disciplines, has been focused on drawing general conclusions that are true for all speakers of a variety. Recent studies have seen a rise of interest in individual variation, yet systematic research is still somewhat rare. Existing studies investigating individual differences in prominence production and perception are often concerned with the encoding of focus structures or the processing of local aspects of predictability, such as word frequency or part-of-speech. In this dissertation, I will therefore consider more global parameters, e.g., discourse givenness.

To address these issues, I will collect data from native speakers of German in a number of controlled production and perception tasks. Target words will vary in several lexical, syntactic, and pragmatic factors assumed to influence their prominence status, such as givenness, grammatical role and animacy. To explore a potential link in production and perception, one of these data collection set-ups will contain both production and perception tasks in order to collect both speech and perception judgements from the same individuals. My research will lead to a better understanding of how speakers and listeners differ and how they are similar in their encoding and decoding of prominence relations.


Short biography

 I received my bachelor’s degree in Empirical Linguistics and English Studies from the University of Kiel. For my master’s studies in General and Applied Linguistics, I attended the University of Würzburg, where I wrote my thesis on acoustic correlates of word-level stress in Turkish. In April 2021, I joined project A07 “Metrical prominence - Scales and Structures” at the CRC 1252 “Prominence in Language” as a Doctoral student.


Contact: janne.lorenzen(at)uni-koeln.de

Website: https://ifl.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/phonetik/institut/personen/janne-lorenzen-ma