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Auteur: Martina KRUGER

Co-Auteur(s): Martine GRICE, University of Cologne, Germany Kai VOGELEY, University of Cologne, Germany

Production and Perception of Information Structure in Patients with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Abstract/Résumé: In a conversation, speakers mark information structure prosodically by emphasizing words that are new and attenuating words that are already given. In Germanic languages this marking is manifested prosodically in more rising accents for new information, more falling accents for accessible information, and a tendency to deaccent information that is completely given in discourse. This marking seems to be largely listener-driven: Speakers account for what their listeners already know, e.g. speakers attenuate information more when they repeat it to the same listener than when they repeat it, but are speaking to a different listener. This corresponds to Chafe's cognitive view on “givenness” defined as the degree of activation of a referent assumed by the speaker to be in the listener's mind at the time of utterance [1]. Due to deficits in mentalizing abilities, an autistic speaker might not be able to access the degree of activation of a referent in the listener’s mind. This could lead to an inappropriate marking of information structure. In fact, a recent study found an impairment of information structure marking in HFA adults [2]. However, that study investigated topic vs. focus marking only. The current study extends these findings to information status defined as a scale of a referent’s cognitive activation, including at least three steps (given–accessible–new). For this, a reading task with paragraphs including target words with different degrees of givenness was conducted. In an acoustic analysis of the pitch movements on target words we found that HFA speakers produced fewer rising contours on new target words (25%) than non-autistic speakers (53%). Thus, HFA speakers appear to prefer intonation contours that usually signal accessible information. Apart from this tendency there are no other apparent differences between the two groups. These findings indicate that HFA speakers produce intonation contours which are inappropriate for new information marking. However, in a reading task there are no active listeners involved, so readers have to imagine the cognitive activation of information in the mind of a potential listener (“quasi-givenness” [1]). To control for “listener-driven” marking, we are currently working on a perception experiment and a more natural collaborative task. [1] Chafe (1976). Givenness, contrastiveness, definiteness, subjects, topics, and point of view. In: Subject and Topic. [2] DePape et al. (2012). Use of prosody and information structure in high functioning adults with Autism in relation to language ability. Frontiers in Psychology 3.