Perception of Lexical Pitch Accents by Serbian and French Speakers

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The study explored the perception of the Serbian lexical pitch accent by Serbian (native) and French (non-native) listeners. The motivation for the study came from the previous research on the processing of word-level prosodic categories in perception. With this study, I attempted to shed light on the ways the lexical pitch accent is perceptually processed by both native and non-native listeners in view of contributing to methodological and theoretical paradigms for studying the perception of word-level prosodic categories. The study included three experiments, all of which were carried out online. The first experiment included an AX discrimination task and an identification task in which only Serbian listeners participated. The results of the AX discrimination task revealed that the listeners were more sensitive to length than to pitch movement as the two main perceptual correlates of lexical pitch accent. The listeners were less accurate on the short-falling and short-rising contrasts, which suggested that the listeners were conflating the pitch movement on short lexical pitch accents. On the identification task, the lexical pitch accent types could not be reliably identified, which implied the lack of metalinguistic knowledge of lexical pitch accents by Serbian listeners. The second experiment was a Sequence Recall Task which investigated Serbian and French listeners' contrast and recall of lexical pitch accent types. The speakers of a language with no word-level prosodic category in their first language were expected to be perceptually insensitive to a non-native word-level prosodic category. The French and Serbian listeners were not significantly different from each other, which suggested that there was no perceptual insensitivity to lexical pitch accents by French (non-native) listeners. The third experiment was an online version of a free classification task, which was used to explore Serbian and French listeners' perception of Serbian lexical pitch accent types based on their similarity. The results were submitted to multi-dimensional scaling and clustering analyses. The analyses showed that the perceptual space between the short-falling and short-rising lexical pitch accents by the Serbian listeners was extremely reduced, while the French listeners displayed the confusion of the long-falling lexical pitch accents with the rest of lexical pitch accent types. Overall, the findings indicated that the listeners of a language with no word-level prosodic category were not insensitive to lexical pitch accents. In addition, native listeners processed lexical pitch accent through the filter of the prosodic structure of their first language, Non-native listeners were able to hear distinctions between lexical pitch accents which native listeners could not. Moreover, non-native listeners heard the contrasts that did not exist in their native language. Lastly, the results indicated both the phonetic and phonological encoding of lexical pitch accent in perception.
Nikolic, D. (2023). Perception of lexical pitch accents by Serbian and French speakers (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from