Arthur Merin & Christine Bartels

Decision-Theoretic Semantics for Intonation

Arbeitspapiere des SFB 340, Bericht Nr. 88 (1997), 17pp.
DVI (50kb); Postscript (248kb)1-up; Postscript gzip-komprimiert (65kb) 1-up , 2-up.


We propose a decision-theoretically grounded, transcontextual semantics for intonation contours of natural languages, in particular, of English. We critically examine a recent set of proposals for a tonal semantics (Pierrehumbert & Hirschberg 1990; Hobbs 1990) which identifies smallest independently meaningful units with level tone phonemes and, like other current approaches (e.g. Gussenhoven 1984), finds denotata in epistemic and discourse relations. Retaining the now standard autosegmental description for intonation phonology (Pierrehumbert 1980) that underlies these discourse-epistemic accounts of tonal meaning, we propose instead a domain of possible denotata in a space of elementary social relations characterizing negotiation (Nash 1953) of joint deontic-boulomaic or epistemic commitments between cooperating autonomous agents (Merin 1994). Intonational morphemes are tone-level transitions, coding ostensible allocation of power of choice of negotiable situational parameters. The basic symbolism is iconic of ontogenetically salient associations of pitch and social power; standard default associations of preference and initiative parameters engage `emotive', `discourse-anaphoric' and, via Peirce/Hintikka games, `logical' concomitants. We exemplify with a variety of classic examples (questions, negation scope) including the so-called Contradiction Contour (Liberman & Sag 1974) familiar to a wider audience from Johnson-Laird (1988).

Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft
Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
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