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Auteur: Cristel PORTES


Disentangling French intonational contours through specific utterance reactions in adjacent pairs

Abstract/Résumé: The present study tests the claim by [1] that "intonation meaning involves belief attribution to the addressee (A) by the speaker (S)": the pragmatic choice of an intonational contour signals how S anticipates A's reception of the utterance which could consist in an acceptance or a revision of the commitment proposed by S. We propose an original interpretation task where participants have to choose among different possible reactions to sentences carrying 4 French intonational contours: a fall L*L%, a rise H*H%, a rise-fall H*L% or a rise-fall-rise H+!H*H%. We assume that participants' choice reflects how they interpret the contours and how they react to the speaker's attribution of intention to them: the choice of L*L% presents the content as assumed by S and uncontroversial for A. An appropriate reaction is 'J'en prends note' 'I've got it' signaling that the content can be added to the common ground. The H*H% presents A as potentially committed to the content. The reaction 'J'en sais rien' 'I don't know', which contradicts S's belief on A's commitment, is appropriate here. The two remaining contours are more complex and they are the specific target of the present study. Specifically, we hypothesized that H*L% presents the content as potentially controversial but strongly assumed by S: an appropriate reaction would be 'Tu dois avoir raison' 'You may be right', conveying both the acknowledgment of S's commitment and the remaining doubt of A. Additionally, we hypothesized that H+!H*H% presents the content as doubtful for S but supported by A: the reaction 'Si si, je t'assure' 'Yes, it's no joke' would comment both on S's doubt and on the commitment of A. Before the task, a pilot study consisting in a classical discrimination task adapted to intonation allowed us to verify that the 4 contours were clearly discriminated from one another. In the main task, we asked 40 French undergraduate students to match each sentence they listen to with one of the 4 reactions they read on a computer screen. In line with our hypotheses, all contours were consistently associated with the hypothesized reactions. Using a novel method, these results provide quantitative support for the view that a rise-fall conveys A's potential disagreement and a strong commitment of S while a rise-fall-rise suggests the acknowledgment of A's commitment and incredulity on the part of S in French. [1] Beyssade, C. & Marandin, J.M. (2007) French Intonation and Attitude Attribution, in Denis et al. (eds), Proceedings of the 2004 Texas Linguistics Society Conference: Issues at the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface, Cascadillla Press.