Prediction and adaptation in prosodic processing

  •  30 October 2018
  •   Timo Roettger
  •   Postdoctoral researcher, Linguistics, Northwestern University

Prosody plays an integral role in comprehending spoken utterances. The use of prosody to signal communicative functions also exhibits a substantial degree of variability, raising the question as to how listeners reliably use prosody to infer meaning. Despite this variability, listeners can rapidly integrate prosodic information to anticipate communicative intentions.

However, what parts of the signal listeners use to anticipate speaker intentions and how they adapt their anticipatory behavior in light of experiences is not well understood yet. This talk presents mouse tracking data that explore these open questions. I will present evidence that (i) listeners can use both the presence of salient pitch events and the absence of otherwise expected pitch events to predict upcoming referential intentions; (ii) some parts of the prosodic signal are systematically ignored when making predictions; and (iii) listeners dynamically adapt their predictive behavior in light of accumulating evidence.

It is argued that listeners rapidly integrate bottom-up acoustic information and weigh it against their top-down expectations about likely prosodic patterns. Moreover, listeners are rational when they evaluate the reliability, that is the usefulness, of parts of the signal to predict what the speaker intends to communicate.