Project C01 "The prosody of negation and its interpretation in sentence comprehension"

Principal investigators: Prof. Markus Bader & Prof. Frank Kügler

This project addresses the role of intonation in interpreting negation in German. The major question of the project is how intonation interacts with negation within the grammar and during on- and offline speech processing. The interface of prosody with syntax and semantics as part of the grammar will be addressed by determining how intonational means are realized in negated sentences. Our project contributes to the Neg-Plus hypothesis by exploring how negation is combined with prosodic categories, and in particular with different pitch accent types that may additionally vary with regard to their position in the sentence. This part of the project will be based on controlled speech-for-reading studies investigating how prosodic parameters of negated sentences depend on word order and information structure. The experimental data will be compared with corpus data to check for ecological validity. The comprehension of negated sentences will be addressed both with online measures looking at the time-course of negation processing and offline measures assessing the final interpretation arrived at by hearers and the cues used for arriving at this interpretation. Offline comprehension will be investigated by means of continuation and forced choice experiments that probe how prosodic cues (highlighting/accentuation, phrasing, or both) modulate the interpretive preferences of negated sentences. Online comprehension will be investigated by measuring eye movements using the visual world paradigm in order to determine how negation affects the time course of sentence comprehension. In particular, we will investigate whether prosodic cues create expectations concerning an upcoming negation, thereby facilitating the creation of a negated meaning representation. For future perspectives, we will extend the object of study to another negation construction of a negative particle plus indefinite article in German. In order to assess the typological consequences of the interaction of negation, prosody and comprehension, it is planned to run the studies in the tone language Akan, which has a distinct prosodic system compared to German.