Malisz, Zofia; Brandt, Erika; Möbius, Bernd; Oh, Yoon Mi; Andreeva, Bistra

Dimensions of segmental variability: interaction of prosody and surprisal in six languages

Frontiers in Communication / Language Sciences, 3, pp. 1-18, 2018.

Contextual predictability variation affects phonological and phonetic structure. Reduction and expansion of acoustic-phonetic features is also characteristic of prosodic variability. In this study, we assess the impact of surprisal and prosodic structure on phonetic encoding, both independently of each other and in interaction. We model segmental duration, vowel space size and spectral characteristics of vowels and consonants as a function of surprisal as well as of syllable prominence, phrase boundary, and speech rate. Correlates of phonetic encoding density are extracted from a subset of the BonnTempo corpus for six languages: American English, Czech, Finnish, French, German, and Polish. Surprisal is estimated from segmental n-gram language models trained on large text corpora. Our findings are generally compatible with a weak version of Aylett and Turk’s Smooth Signal Redundancy hypothesis, suggesting that prosodic structure mediates between the requirements of efficient communication and the speech signal. However, this mediation is not perfect, as we found evidence for additional, direct effects of changes in surprisal on the phonetic structure of utterances. These effects appear to be stable across different speech rates.