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Aspects of New Zealand English Intonation and Its Meanings: an Experimental Investigation of Forms and Contrasts

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posted on 2021-11-08, 20:52 authored by Vermillion, Patricia

The first aim of this thesis was to examine the form of New Zealand English intonation. The results of the first series of experiments illustrated several distinctive features of NZE intonation and the preferential tonal use within this language variety. The results from the first experiment suggests that NZE intonation can be characterised as having a narrow pitch range within the phrase and a wide pitch range at the end of the phrase in relation to British English. The findings in the second analysis illustrate that tonal composition, not sentence type affects the pitch range that NZE speaker uses. In addition to pitch range preferences, NZE speakers were also found to prefer an H*L-L% nuclear tonal composition on statements and an L*L-H% for two types of questions when conversational cues were not required by the task type. The second aim of the thesis was to define the tonal features which may adequately describe the semantic contrasts used in this variety. Five experiments were carried out with this aim in mind. The results revealed that NZE listeners use the height of pitch target values when interpreting the meaning of intonation and that the heights of three tonal constituents would be useful in notating the semantic contrasts in this language variety. First, the pitch accent target is used in this variety to indicate speaker involvement, whereby higher (H*) or later (L+H*) pitch accent targets indicate a greater degree of involvement than lower (L*) or earlier targets (H*), respectively. This claim was supported by a production experiment (Chapter 5) in which speakers were asked to convey contrasting meanings on identical utterances. The results were such that higher and later pitch peaks were produced to convey concern, emphasis and an impressed attitude, while lower and earlier pitch accent peaks indicated an absence of these three meanings. Further support for this claim was provided in a perception experiment (Chapter 7), which investigated how listeners interpret conversational markers indicating discourse completeness. The results show that NZE listeners interpret higher H* targets as indicating speaker involvement and, subsequently, listener-oriented turn cues. However, a non-emphatic H*, or a high pitch accent which is lower in pitch than a preceding high pitch accent, does not convey such cues. Second, the boundary target is used to contrast continuation with high phrase-final targets and finality with low phrase-final targets in NZE. This assertion was supported by a perception experiment (Chapter 6) which examined categorical boundaries determined by the boundary tone height. The results suggest that there is at least one categorical boundary at the IP-Final position, which is marked by the pitch movement to the boundary target from the preceding H*. In addition, the semantic contrast of the boundary target height was illustrated in two experiments. First, a production experiment (Chapter 5) illustrated how NZE speakers indicate conversational continuation cues and concern with high boundaries whereas low boundaries indicated conversational cessation cues and a lack of concern. A separate perception experiment (Chapter 7) showed that NZE listeners interpret higher boundary targets as speaker continuation cues and listener-oriented speaking cues whereas lower boundary targets again indicated conversational cessation cues for the speaker and to the listener. Third, the phrase accent may prove useful in distinguishing a further semantic contrast used in this language variety, with a level pitch movement from H* to the IP-Final boundary target categorised with the H% stimuli (suggested in Chapter 6) while the distinction between H-L% and L-L% may be best defined as a pitch movement which does not fall to the F0 minimum and a movement which does fall to this low value (Chapter 5). Although the existence of a phrase accent could not be proved in this thesis, the results illustrate support for this tonal feature.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Holmes, Janet; Warren, Paul