Intonation + its Interfaces (int²)

Exploring intonational interfaces with other linguistic domains

There has been remarkable progress on the phonology of English intonation, especially over the past four decades. At the same time, there is much left to uncover in the nature of intonational models and representations (even for relatively well-studied languages like English) — both with respect to intonation proper and in its relations to other domains of language. This major branch of my research program aims to make progress in understanding intonation from a variety of perspectives. I engage in this work as a collaboration with others in a research collective known as the Intonation and its Interfaces (int²) group.

I start with a premise that morphosyntax builds abstract structures while being blind to how they manifest in phonological form (i.e., “late insertion”/“realizational” models). Following this, it is expected that some abstract morphemes could (in principle) map onto intonational forms with the same mechanisms that map abstract morphemes onto segmental forms. (i.e., We expect that a morpheme X⁰ could just as easily map onto /L*/ as onto /-o/.) In order to discover if this is true, many more questions arise, related to intonation and its many interfaces.

Some of those questions are about:

  1. phonology (What are the atoms of form, in the abstract sense, for English?),
  2. the phonetics-phonology interface (How do atoms of form get expressed as acoustic cues?),
  3. annotation (How should we annotate intonation?),
  4. semantics/pragmatics (What are the atoms of meaning that intonation is associated with in English?),
  5. sociolinguistics (How do we tease out the effects of social variables on intonation?),
  6. syntax (How are those atoms of form and atoms of meaning related, in the syntax?), and
  7. morphology (Are there constraints on what intonation can/cannot manifest?).

A portion of my work in this domain is an NSF-supported project on intonational morphology, for which I am a lead PI, in collaboration with Nanette Veilleux, Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, Sunwoo Jeong, Alejna Brugos, and a group of undergraduate research assistants.

I have also done work in this domain about the intonation of American English polar questions (with Z.L. Zhou), and on the intonational features of American English newscaster speech (with Emily Gasser, Donna Jo Napoli, and Z.L. Zhou).

some work in this project

  1. Ahn, Byron, Nanette Veilleux, Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel & Alejna Brugos. Submitted. Embarking on PoLaR Explorations: A Framework for Intonational Annotation and Analysis.
  2. Ahn, Byron, Nanette Veilleux, Beth Sturman, Alejna Brugos, Sunwoo Jeong & Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel. 2022, March. How Meaningful These Intonational Contours Are! Poster presented at 35th Annual Conference on Human Sentence Processing (formerly the ‘CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing’). University of California, Santa Cruz.
  3. Ahn, Byron, Nanette Veilleux & Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel. 2019. Annotating Prosody with PoLaR: Conventions for a Decompositional Annotation System. In Sasha Calhoun, Paola Escudero, Marija Tabain, & Paul Warren (eds.), Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Melbourne, Australia 2019, 1302–1306. Canberra, Australia: Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association Inc.
  4. Zhou, Z.L. & Byron Ahn. 2019. Is this in the phonology? Examining the intonational phonetics-phonology interface with American English polar questions. In Sasha Calhoun, Paola Escudero, Marija Tabain, & Paul Warren (eds.), Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Melbourne, Australia 2019, 2450–2454. Canberra, Australia: Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association Inc.
  5. Gasser, Emily, Byron Ahn, Donna Jo Napoli & Z.L. Zhou. 2019. Production, perception, and communicative goals of American newscaster speech. Language in Society 48(2). 233–259.
  6. Gasser, Emily, Byron Ahn, Donna Jo Napoli & Z.L. Zhou. 2018, October. Prosodic features of newscaster intonation: production, perception, and communicative use. Talk presented at Experimental and Theoretical Advances in Prosody 4, UMass Amherst.
  7. Ahn, Byron, Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel & Nanette Veilleux. 2016. Evidence and Intonational Contours: An Experimental Approach to Meaning in Intonation. Proceedings of the Sixteenth Australasian International Conference on Speech Science and Technology 189–192.