Intonational cues to speaker bias in questions and the role of language exposure

Riccardo Orrico, Mariapaola D'Imperio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper investigates the relationship between exposure to non-native dialects or foreign languages and the extraction of pragmatic meaning from intonational cues, with specific reference to the identification of speaker certainty towards the answer in questions. While previous research on language exposure has been primarily concerned with the phonetic/phonology interface, here we report on the way exposure affects intonational meaning. The language under investigation is the variety of Italian spoken in Salerno. Previous work on this variety has unveiled high levels of intonation variability at the individual level, both in production and perception, attributed to both social and cognitive factors. Here we focus on perception, testing the hypothesis that listeners’ exposure to other intonation systems affects the intonation-meaning mapping. Specifically we report the results of a perception experiment in which Salerno Italian listeners were asked to rate tunes according to the degree of speaker certainty relative to the answer expected (yes or no). We show that intonational cues are exploited by listeners to identify speaker's expectation of answers to questions. The use of specific cues to identify speaker's certainty, however, is shown to be highly dependent on listeners’ exposure differences. Hence, we propose that, while results support the idea that discrete elements within a tune have intrinsic and independent meanings, they are not in line with intonational meaning models proposing absolute stability in the intonation-meaning mapping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-266
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
StatePublished - Oct 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


  • Dialect contact
  • Epistemic bias
  • Intonational meaning
  • Question intonation
  • Salerno Italian


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