Listening for sound, listening for meaning: Task effects on prosodic transcription

Jennifer Cole, Timothy Mahrt, José I. Hualde

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The perception of prosodic structure (phrasal prominences and boundaries) may depend in part on acoustic cues in the speech signal and in part on utterance meaning as related to syntactic structure and discourse context. In this study we ask if listeners are able to differentially weigh acoustic and meaningbased cues to prosody. We test naïve subjects' transcription of prominences and boundaries in spontaneous American English under three different conditions, all of which involve listening to audio recordings and marking prominences and boundaries on a transcript. The three conditions differ in the instructions given to transcribers. In one condition, subjects were instructed to transcribe prominence and boundaries based on meaning criteria, in a second condition they were told to transcribe based on criteria of acoustic salience, and a third condition had less specific instructions, without explicit reference to either meaning-based or acoustic cues. Our results show that subjects perform differently when focusing on meaning than when focusing on acoustics, especially for prominence marking, where partially different sets of words are selected as prominent under the two tasks. Boundary marking is more similar under the two instructions, with acoustic criteria resulting in more listeners marking a given word as pre-boundary, but with boundaries marked largely on the same words in both tasks. With non-specific instructions, performance was similar to that obtained under acoustic-based instructions. We report on agreement rates within and across conditions. This study has implications for models of prosody perception and the methodology of prosodic transcription.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)859-863
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the International Conference on Speech Prosody
StatePublished - 2014
Event7th International Conference on Speech Prosody, SP 2014 - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: May 20 2014May 23 2014


  • Boundaries
  • Prominence
  • Prosodic transcription
  • Prosody

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Listening for sound, listening for meaning: Task effects on prosodic transcription'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this