The Phonological Status of the French Initial Accent and its Role in Semantic Processing: An Event-Related Potentials Study

Noémie te Rietmolen, Radouane El Yagoubi, Alain Ghio, Corine Astésano


French accentuation is held to belong to the level of the phrase. Consequently French is considered ‘a language without accent’ with speakers that are ‘deaf to stress’. Recent ERP-studies investigating the French initial accent (IA) however demonstrate listeners not only discriminate between different stress patterns, but also prefer words to be marked with IA early in the process of speech comprehension. Still, as words were presented in isolation, it remains unclear whether the preference applied to the lexical or to the phrasal level. In the current ERP-study, we address this ambiguity and manipulate IA on words embedded in a sentence. Furthermore, we orthogonally manipulate semantic congruity to investigate the interplay between accentuation and later speech processing stages. Preliminary results on 14 participants reveal a significant interaction effect: the centro-frontally located N400 was larger for words without IA, with a bigger effect for semantically incongruent sentences. This indicates that IA is encoded at a lexical level and facilitates semantic processing. Furthermore, as participants attended to the semantic content of the sentences, the finding underlines the automaticity of stress processing. In sum, we demonstrate accentuation plays an important role in French speech comprehension and call for the traditional view to be reconsidered.


 DOI: 10.21437/Interspeech.2017-934

Cite as: Rietmolen, N.T., Yagoubi, R.E., Ghio, A., Astésano, C. (2017) The Phonological Status of the French Initial Accent and its Role in Semantic Processing: An Event-Related Potentials Study. Proc. Interspeech 2017, 2436-2440, DOI: 10.21437/Interspeech.2017-934.


@inproceedings{Rietmolen2017,
  author={Noémie te Rietmolen and Radouane El Yagoubi and Alain Ghio and Corine Astésano},
  title={The Phonological Status of the French Initial Accent and its Role in Semantic Processing: An Event-Related Potentials Study},
  year=2017,
  booktitle={Proc. Interspeech 2017},
  pages={2436--2440},
  doi={10.21437/Interspeech.2017-934},
  url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/Interspeech.2017-934}
}