Multimodal prominences: Exploring the patterning and usage of focal pitch accents, head beats and eyebrow beats in Swedish television news readings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Facial beat gestures align with pitch accents in speech, functioning as visual prominence markers. However, it is not yet well understood whether and how gestures and pitch accents might be combined to create different types of multimodal prominence, and how specifically visual prominence cues are used in spoken communication. In this study, we explore the use and possible interaction of eyebrow (EB) and head (HB) beats with so-called focal pitch accents (FA) in a corpus of 31 brief news readings from Swedish television (four news anchors, 986 words in total), focusing on effects of position in text, information structure as well as speaker expressivity. Results reveal an inventory of four primary (combinations of) prominence markers in the corpus: FA+HB+EB, FA+HB, FA only (i.e., no gesture), and HB only, implying that eyebrow beats tend to occur only in combination with the other two markers. In addition, head beats occur significantly more frequently in the second than in the first part of a news reading. A functional analysis of the data suggests that the distribution of head beats might to some degree be governed by information structure, as the text-initial clause often defines a common ground or presents the theme of the news story. In the rheme part of the news story, FA, HB, and FA+HB are all common prominence markers. The choice between them is subject to variation which we suggest might represent a degree of freedom for the speaker to use the markers expressively. A second main observation concerns eyebrow beats, which seem to be used mainly as a kind of intensification marker for highlighting not only contrast, but also value, magnitude, or emotionally loaded words; it is applicable in any position in a text. We thus observe largely different patterns of occurrence and usage of head beats on the one hand and eyebrow beats on the other, suggesting that the two represent two separate modalities of visual prominence cuing.


  • Gilbert Ambrazaitis
  • David House
External organisations
  • KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-113
JournalSpeech Communication
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Publication categoryResearch

Related research output

Gilbert Ambrazaitis & David House, 2017, Proceedings of The 14th International Conference on Auditory-Visual Speech Processing (AVSP2017). Ouni, S., Davis, C., Jesse, A. & Beskow, J. (eds.). KTH, 6 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPaper in conference proceeding

Gilbert Ambrazaitis, Malin Svensson Lundmark & David House, 2015, Proceedings from Fonetik 2015: Lund, June 8-10, 2015. Working Papers 55. 2015. . Svensson Lundmark, M., Ambrazaitis, G. & van de Weijer, J. (eds.). Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University, Vol. 55. p. 11-16 6 p. (Working Papers in General Linguistics and Phonetics; vol. 55).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPaper in conference proceeding

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Related activities

Gilbert Ambrazaitis (Lecturer)
2017 Sep 16

Activity: Talk or presentationPublic lecture/debate/seminar

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