Nuclear Intonation in Swedish : Evidence from Experimental-Phonetic Studies and a Comparison with German

Gilbert Ambrazaitis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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This thesis investigates Swedish intonation patterns and their interaction with word accent realisation in various pragmatic conditions, using German as a reference language. The point of departure is the wide-spread assumption that Swedish, as a language with a tonal word accent distinction, has a considerably smaller repertoire of nuclear intonation contours than German and other so-called intonation languages. In particular, whereas only one sentence accent has been modelled for Swedish so far (a high focal accent H-), a multiple paradigmatic contrast of sentence accents (e.g. H*, L*+H, H+L*) has been assumed for German. It is hypothesised, however, that the contemporary models of German and Swedish intonation are based on different research traditions, and hence, that the intonation of the two languages might be more similar than commonly assumed. Three production studies, based on recordings from 21 speakers, and one perception (reaction time) experiment involving 20 listeners are reported. In the first two production studies, the intonation of test phrases elicited in German and Swedish speakers in a variety of pragmatic conditions is compared by analysing F0 and to some degree duration patterns. The most central pragmatic distinction treated in this thesis involves the focussing of new vs. given information, the latter case occurring in confirmations. The main result of these studies is that Swedish and German seem to have a similar inventory of nuclear intonation patterns, which have basically the same pragmatic functions in the two languages. For instance, an "early fall", a pattern involving a fall onto a low-pitched stressed vowel, can signal a confirmation in both German and Swedish. This result suggests that, in addition to the well-established high accent (H-), Swedish also has a paradigmatic choice of sentence accents, involving a falling accent (H+L-). The third production study and the reaction time experiment concentrate on the "early fall" found in confirmations and investigate the interaction of word accent and intonation. The results show that the Swedish word accent distinction can be neutralised in connection with the "early fall", a situation which may be related to the perceptual enhancement of the intonational contrast between a high (H-) and a falling (H+L-) sentence accent.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Phonetics
  • Bruce, Gösta, Supervisor
  • Horne, Merle, Supervisor
Award date2009 Dec 11
ISBN (Print)978-91-974116-5-3
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2009-12-11
Time: 13:15
Place: Sal 207, Zoofysiologen, Helgonavägen 3-5

External reviewer(s)

Name: Heldner, Mattias
Title: Docent
Affiliation: Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, Stockholm


The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics

Free keywords

  • parallel encoding
  • contrastive topic
  • new information
  • given information
  • focus
  • information structure
  • pragmatics
  • nucleus
  • sentence accent
  • prosody
  • word accent
  • F0
  • early peak
  • perception
  • reaction time


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