Perception of prosodic boundaries by untrained listeners

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Prosodic units figure in many interactional analyses (e.g. Ford & Thompson 1996; Selting 2000), but there remains substantial uncertainty about how exactly to recognize them. Various proposals for auditory and acoustic rubrics for prosodic boundary identification exist (e.g. Du Bois et al. 1992), but the relationship of these to the perceptions of ordinary speakers has been little studied. This study presents results from a perception experiment in which untrained listeners heard audio clips of natural discourse and indicated where they heard prosodic boundaries. I argue that the results do not support the notion of a sharp, listener-independent distinction between prosodic boundaries and non-boundaries. I also argue that such an experimental approach is useful within interactional research as a check on the relation between analytic construals of participants’ behavior and the judgments of untrained observers about that same behavior.


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