American English pitch accents in variation: Pushing the boundaries of mainstream American English-ToBI conventions


Linguists interested in intonation have long struggled to establish a maximally broad set of annotation conventions that function equally well across varieties of American English. The current study tests the advantages and limitations of the widely-used MAE-ToBI conventions, focusing on the H* and L+H* distinction, for three varieties of American English: African American English, Appalachian English, and Jewish English. Results of quantitative analysis of production data from 30 speakers of the three varieties finds major differences in rate of use of the H* and L+H* pitch accent as well as the phonetic realizations of these pitch accents, which may not be captured solely using the MAE-ToBI conventions. These differences appear not only between MAE-ToBI and the other three varieties, but also between the varieties themselves in unique ways that may shed light on the nature of sociolinguistic variation at the level of intonation, as well as the debated status of the distinction of H* vs. L+H* as a phonological or phonetic distinction. These findings provide further motivation for the development and use of annotation systems that explicitly consider sociolinguistic variation as well as phonetic parameters. Such systems will become even more essential as both sociolinguists and phoneticians expand intonational analysis beyond so-called “standard varieties” in order to arrive at a richer and more accurate picture of the intonational system of American English.



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Journal of Phonetics



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