Discourse intonation and second language acquisition: three genre-based studies
This dissertation investigates intonation in the discourse of nonnative speakers of English. It is proposed that intonation functions as a grammar of cohesion, contributing to the coherence of the text. Based on a componential model of intonation adapted from Pierrehumbert and Hirshberg (1990), three empirical studies were conducted in different genres of spoken discourse: academic lectures, conversations, and oral narratives. Using computerized speech technology, excerpts of taped discourse were measured to determine how intonation associated with various constituents of text. All speakers were tested for overall English level on tests adapted from the SPEAK Test (ETS, 1985). Comparisons using native speaker data were also conducted.The first study investigated intonation in lectures given by Chinese teaching assistants. Multivariate analyses showed that intonation was a significant factor contributing to better scores on an exam of overall comprehensibility in English. The second study investigated the role of intonation in the turn-taking system in conversations between native and nonnative speakers of English. The final study considered emotional aspects of intonation in narratives, using the framework of Labov and Waletsky (1967). In sum, adult nonnative speakers can acquire intonation as part of their overall language development, although there is evidence against any specific order of acquisition. Intonation contributes to coherence by indicating the relationship between the current utterance and what is assumed to already be in participants' mental representations of the discourse. It also performs a segmentation function, denoting hierarchical relationships among utterances and/or turns. It is suggested that while pitch can be a resource in cross-cultural communication to show emotion and attitude, the grammatical aspects of intonation must be acquired gradually.
- English