Effects of metric hierarchy and rhyme predictability on word duration in The Cat in the Hat

Published in: Cognition, Volume 174, May 2018, 71-81

“Word durations convey many types of linguistic information, including intrinsic lexical features like length and frequency and contextual features like syntactic and semantic structure. The current study was designed to investigate whether hierarchical metric structure and rhyme predictability account for durational variation over and above other features in productions of a rhyming, metrically-regular children’s book: The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss, 1957). One-syllable word durations and inter-onset intervals were modeled as functions of segment number, lexical frequency, word class, syntactic structure, repetition, and font emphasis. Consistent with prior work, factors predicting longer word durations and inter-onset intervals included more phonemes, lower frequency, first mention, alignment with a syntactic boundary, and capitalization. A model parameter corresponding to metric grid height improved model fit of word durations and inter-onset intervals. Specifically, speakers realized five levels of metric hierarchy with inter-onset intervals such that interval duration increased linearly with increased height in the metric hierarchy. Conversely, speakers realized only three levels of metric hierarchy with word duration, demonstrating that they shortened the highly predictable rhyme resolutions. These results further understanding of the factors that affect spoken word duration, and demonstrate the myriad cues that children receive about linguistic structure from nursery rhymes.”

Written by: Mara Breen
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2018.01.014

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