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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Martina URBANI

The role of pitch range in L2 English by Italian speakers

Abstract/Résumé: What are the effects of pitch range in the perception of L2 speech? A number of studies investigated the nature of F0 span and level in cross-linguistic comparisons. However, only few experiments have focused on the real necessity to work on the elaboration of a general-agreed methodology. A series of factors has to be taken into consideration when determining the existence of measurable and reliable differences in pitch values. Some of these factors are the language spoken, age, body size, speaker gender, socio-cultural background, regional accents, speech task, sentence type, and measure scales. This study presents preliminary results on the differences of pitch range in selected utterances produced by American English native speakers and Italian learners of English. The hypothesis being tested is that Italian learners of English are influenced by their L1, thus transferring pitch range variation in their L2. The English sentences produced by Italians are expected to have overall higher pitch levels and narrower pitch span than those produced by Americans. To test this hypothesis, a cross-linguistic study was conducted by comparing pitch level and span in 15 sentences in English and Italian pronounced by 10 American English speakers from California and 10 Italian speakers from the North East of Italy. The corpus created consisted of 300 utterances (10 speakers x 15 sentences x 2 language groups). LTD (long-term distributional) measures were obtained by inquiring pitch info in Praat such as F0 minimum, maximum, mean, median, standard deviation, range (calculated in Hz and ST), skewness and kurtosis. In order to avoid pitch-tracking mistakes, spurious values on the pitch object visualizations were manually inspected, adjusted and, in some cases, erased. Linguistic measures were found to be more effective than LTD measures in capturing differences in pitch range across languages. Results show that Italians use overall higher pitch levels when speaking in Italian and lower levels when speaking in English. Conversely, their pitch spans are overall higher in English and lower in Italian. Cross-linguistic differences of pitch level and span were found across patterns used in different sentence types (yes-no questions vs. wh-questions vs. statements), with wh-questions and statements registering more significant differences than yes-no questions. Since Americans’ F0 span was larger than that of the Italians in every sentence type, F0 span seems to be one of the most effective cue to distinguish among utterances produced by Americans and Italians.