The role of syntactic obligatoriness in the production of intonational boundaries

Duane Watson, Mara Breen, Edward Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Researchers have hypothesized that words that are highly related semantically are more likely to occur within the same intonational phrase (F. zzaq;, 1988; E. O. Selkirk, 1984). D. Watson and E. Gibson (2004) proposed that semantic closeness can be captured by using the argument/adjunct distinction, such that intonational boundaries are more likely to occur before adjuncts than before arguments. In the current experiment, the authors compared two aspects of argumenthood: semantic relatedness and obligatoriness. In a production study, speakers were more likely to place an intonational phrase boundary between a word and a dependent if the dependent was optional (e.g., after "investigation" in "The reporter's investigation [of the crash] unnerved the officials") than if the dependent was obligatory (e.g., after "investigated" in "The reporter investigated [the crash], and this unnerved the officials"). These data suggest that obligatoriness is a better predictor of intonational boundary placement than semantic closeness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1045-1056
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Intonational phrase boundaries
  • Language production
  • Prosody
  • Syntax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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