The perception of phrasal prominence in English, Spanish and French conversational speech

José I. Hualde, Jennifer S Cole, Caroline L. Smith, Christopher D. Eager, Timothy Mahrt, Ricardo Napoleão de Souza

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Since Bolinger’s [1] discovery that pitch cues accentual prominence in English, a tension has arisen between two strategies: equating accent with pitch excursions and relying on perception for identifying accented words. This paper investigates the relation between prominence judgments from untrained listeners and accentual labels produced by trained transcribers. Naïve speakers of English, Spanish and French (30 per language) were asked to mark prominent words in excerpts of conversational speech from their native language (between 900-1100 words in each sample). Aggregated prominence scores (P-scores) were compared with experts’ ToBI labels for each language. For all three languages, words ToBI-labelled as accented had substantially higher P-scores than unaccented words, and nuclear accents had higher Pscores than prenuclear ones. P-scores also discriminated among several accent types. Predictions from prior research on the relative prominence of accent labels were tested, and findings confirm that English L+H* accents are more likely to be judged as prominent than H* accents, and Spanish L+H* is more likely judged as prominent than L+>H*. However, for French, our prediction that Accentual Phrase-initial Hi is prominence-lending was not confirmed. The results establish the link between tonal accents and perceived prominence in three languages that differ in their use of contrastive prominence at the lexical and phrasal levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-463
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the International Conference on Speech Prosody
StatePublished - 2016
Event8th Speech Prosody 2016 - Boston, United States
Duration: May 31 2016Jun 3 2016


  • English
  • French
  • Intonation
  • Phrasal prominence
  • Prosodic labeling
  • Spanish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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