Speech Prosody 2004
In a previous production study  we explored the prosodic marking of thematic material in contrastive and non-contrastive contexts in German. While both conditions resulted in a prenuclear rise, we found that themes in contrastive context exhibited a significantly longer stressed vowel, together with a higher and later peak. Interestingly, speakers varied as to whether they used peak alignment, peak height or both for signalling thematic contrast. This might indicate that there is a continuum in contrastmarking rather than distinct accent categories.
In this paper we shall describe several perception studies that investigate which of the factors are important to make an utterance appropriate in contrastive and non-contrastive contexts. More specifically, we explored duration and (extent and temporal alignment of) f0 movement in German prenuclear accents.
Results show that subjects have clear perceptual preferences in contrastive contexts which disappear in non-contrastive contexts. We therefore conclude that contrastive contexts impose strong constraints on intonational form whereas noncontrastive contexts seem to be rather under-specified which gives room for alternative interpretation. Obviously, this conclusion is problematic for semantic theories. If themes in both contrastive and non-contrastive contexts may be intonationally marked, the assumed direct link between intonational marking and contrastive interpretation becomes questionable.
Bibliographic reference. Braun, Bettina (2004): "Answers to the perception of thematic contrast and questions regarding the perception of thematic "non-contrast"", In SP-2004, 685-688.