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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Prosody and language comprehension

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This review provides a summary of the most recent advances on the study of how prosody is used during language comprehension. Prosody is characterized as an abstract structure composed of discrete tonal elements aligned with the segmental composition of the sentence organized in constituents of increasing size, and this structure is influenced by the phonological, syntactic, and informational structures of the sentence. Here, we discuss evidence that listeners are affected by prosody when establishing those linguistic structures. Prosody has been shown to influence the segmentation of the utterance into syllables and words, and, in some cases, whether a syllable or word is judged to be present or not. The literature on how prosody informs the structural relationship between words and phrases is also discussed, contrasting views that assume a direct (albeit probabilistic) link between syntax and prosody with those that posit a complex interface between syntax and prosodic structure. Finally, the role of prosody in conveying important aspects pertaining to the sentence's information structure (i.e., which parts of the sentence's meaning are highlighted and brought forward to the discourse, which ones are presupposed and left in the background, which attitudes are being conveyed about the concepts or propositional content) has long been recognized. Current research focuses on which prosodic elements contribute to marking the dimensions (or semantic primitives) of the information structure. WIREs Cogn Sci 2015, 6:441–452. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1355 This article is categorized under: Linguistics > Language in Mind and Brain

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