16th Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association

Dresden, Germany
September 6-10, 2015

The Prosodic Marking of Rhetorical Questions in German

Daniela Wochner, Jana Schlegel, Nicole Dehé, Bettina Braun

Universität Konstanz, Germany

This study investigates the prosody of rhetorical questions in German. In an interaction study we examined how speakers use boundary tones, pitch, duration and voice quality to mark syntactically ambiguous questions as rhetorical or information-seeking. To this end, speakers produced identical interrogatives (polar and wh-questions) in rhetorical and information-seeking contexts. The results show that, phonologically, rhetorical questions end in low boundary tones more often, but the difference is minimal (5%), especially compared to the effect of interrogative type on boundary tones (polar questions are rising and wh-questions are falling in more than 90% of the cases, respectively). Phonetically, rhetorical questions are characterized by longer utterance durations and lower initial pitch. Furthermore, the first constituent (wh-word or verb) is produced with a softer voice compared to information-seeking questions. Overall the results show that there are prosodic differences between RQs and ISQs for both polar and wh-questions. There seems to be a tendency for rhetoricity to be signalled early-on in the utterance in both polar and wh-questions. Furthermore, the phonetic cues for disambiguation are stronger in wh-questions than in polar questions.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Wochner, Daniela / Schlegel, Jana / Dehé, Nicole / Braun, Bettina (2015): "The prosodic marking of rhetorical questions in German", In INTERSPEECH-2015, 987-991.