Congratulations to Gouming Martens, who defended his dissertation “What about those B-accents and hat patterns? Form and meaning of contrastive topics in English, Dutch, and German”, supervised by Michael Wagner and Francisco Torreira on August 4th. Congrats Gouming!

Gouming and Michael

Abstract: This dissertation explores how intonation and meaning relate to one another. The following questions will be addressed: How do intonational form and meaning relate to each other? Is the mapping between intonational form and meaning compositional or should it be treated holistically? To get a better understanding of how intonation works in general, I will look into two specific intonational patterns, namely the hat pattern in German and Dutch and AB-BA patterns in English. Some have linked these intonation pattern to notions such as contrastive topics and foci where specific pitch accents are consistently associated with either topics or foci. Others take a more holistic approach and assign a specific meaning to the whole tune as such. A lot has been written about these patterns but so far there is little consensus on the exact forms and meanings. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is no established and uniform phonological form that corresponds to these patterns: Different researchers refer to different phonological forms or fail to even mention what the form is in some cases. Another issue is that little empirical data has been provided to support a certain analysis: Most approaches linking intonation patterns to specific meanings have only informally provided individual examples to support their claims. Through a series of experiments, this study makes an attempt at exploring how intonational form and meaning are related to each other and whether intonational meaning should be considered holistic or composed of smaller meaningful units.