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Doctoral dissertation project of Caterina Ventura

Shift in attention as a function of the prosodic realisation of referents (working title)

My project is concerned with the function of prosody of highlighting parts of the message, making them prominent in respect to the others, and with how this prosodic prominence works in attracting listener’s attention. To pursue this goal, I am focusing on the cross-linguistic comparison between German and Italian, as it could represent a crucial step towards a better understanding of the underlying processes in the listener’s mind. In particular it has been argued that in these two languages the words following a focussed constituent are prosodically realized by two different mechanisms: Germanic languages show effects of deaccentuation, while Italian resists to systematically deaccent them. The hypothesis is that the difference in the realisation of post-focal material in the two languages could result in a difference in the depth of processing.
The research I am carrying on originates from several studies on Germanic languages arguing that readers allocate more attention to anomalous words when they bear an accent than when they don’t. Therefore, accented constituents are processed more deeply than ones that are deaccented. Accordingly, listeners allocate their attentional resources to the constituent in focus, with the consequence of being less aware of the anomalies that occur in post-focal position. It could then be hypothesised that an earlier focal accent is capable of drawing attention away from deaccented words in the post-focal domain. Therefore, this would lead to more shallow processing for German in comparison with Italian, where the mere presence of an accent might preclude the shallow processing of post-focal material. Consequently, in Italian more processing resources would be allocated to the part of the sentence following the focussed constituent than in West Germanic languages.
The overarching goal of this investigation is to gain a broader understanding of prosody as a prominence-lending and attention orienting device, in order to asses how prosodic prominence affects semantic processing.


Short biography

Caterina Ventura, year 1992, studied Italian literature, European cultures and Linguistics in the University of Bologna, where she graduated in 2017 with the thesis "On the phonetic basis of accentual prominence and of vowel-consonant coordination in Italian, The effects of prosodic hierarchy and of syllabic structure on supralaryngeal articulation". In April 2017 she started working in the SFB 1252 "Prominence in Language", joining the A01 project "Intonation and attention orienting: Neurophysiological and behavioural correlates". Since June 2017 she is a doctoral student in the a.r.t.e.s. Integrated Track and attends the graduate class 8. Her doctoral project on prosodic prominence as an attention orienting device is supervised by Petra Schumacher and Martine Grice.

Contact: cventura(at)uni-koeln.de


Cover photo: Adrien Hebert (2013): 20 Hz - 20 000 Hz // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad