From Tones to Tunes: Effects of the f0 Prenuclear Region in the Perception of Neapolitan Statements and Questions

  • Caterina PetroneEmail author
  • Mariapaola D’Imperio
Part of the Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory book series (SNLT)


Most research on tune meaning has focussed on the contribution of the nuclear configuration (composed of nuclear accent, phrase accent and boundary tone), while the meaning contribution of the prenuclear contour (i.e., the intonational region preceding the nuclear accent) is still understudied. In Neapolitan Italian, differences in early (L+H*) vs. late (L*+H) nuclear accent alignment are used to differentiate narrow focus statements and yes/no questions. Furthermore, a tone appears to be inserted at the right edge of the Accentual Phrase (AP) in the prenuclear contour, which is differently specified in questions (HAP) and in statements (LAP). In this paper, we test the hypothesis that such a difference in AP tonal specification would help Neapolitan listeners to recover the contrast between questions and statements early within the intonation phrase. Both an identification and a semantic differential task were run on gated stimuli, in which the nuclear accent information was omitted. Results show that the prenuclear contour carries enough information in order to distinguish the two intonation modalities and that AP scaling manipulation significantly affects listeners’ judgments. This challenges the idea that the nuclear configuration alone is relevant for the questions-statements distinction, thus implying that tune meaning is the result of the interaction between prenuclear and nuclear f 0 contours.


Prenuclear contour Tonal scaling Perception Intonational meaning Neapolitan Italian 



This article developed material presented at the Conference TIE3 and we are very grateful to the audience of the conference. Thanks also to Sue Hertz and Lisa Selkirk for fruitful discussions and to reviewers for comments to an earlier version of the paper. Thanks also to Dr. Cinzia Citraro for technical help. All errors are of course ours.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zentrum für Allgemeine SprachwissenschaftBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Laboratoire Parole et Langage, Université de Provence (Aix-Marseille I)Aix-en-ProvenceFrance

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