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Teaching and learning L2 Spanish intonation. Lluïsa Astruc The Open University & The University of Cambridge. Introduction: prosody & intonation. Intonation belongs to the suprasegmental level of language (also called prosody) Units of prosody (‘ prosodic structure ’)

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teaching and learning l2 spanish intonation

Teaching and learning L2 Spanish intonation

Lluïsa Astruc

The Open University & The University of Cambridge

introduction prosody intonation
Introduction: prosody & intonation
  • Intonation belongs to the suprasegmental level of language (also called prosody)
  • Units of prosody (‘prosodicstructure’)
    • segments > syllables > feet > words > phrases
  • Prosodic sub-systems:
    • Intonation
    • Stress
      • ‘ánima’, ‘anima’, ‘animó’

[ˈanima, aˈnima, aniˈmo]

    • Rhythm

Introduction: prosody & intonation

  • Phonetics and phonology
  • Syntax, semantics, pragmatics
      • “Your opponents talk, honestly”
      • “Your opponents talk honestly”
  • Language acquisition
  • Literacy acquisition
    • Prosodic deficit hypothesis
    • Reading comprehension
  • Fundamental frequency and pitch
    • Pitch accents are...
    • Boundary tones are…

Two tonal boundaries, both low (L), after ‘ready’ and ‘announced’.

No pitch accents in ‘my mother announced’.

functions of intonation
Functions of intonation
  • Grammatical function
    • Question vs. statement, yes-no vs. wh-question,…
  • Pragmatic (‘attitudinal’) function
    • Speaker’s attitude, point of view,…
  • Discourse function
    • Information marking (old vs. new information), turn-taking,...
  • Paralinguistic and sociolinguistic functions
    • Emotions, group identity,…

(see Chun 2002 for an overview )

goals of teaching intonation
Goals of teaching intonation
  • Improving:
      • Comprehension
        • Segmentation and lexical retrieval
        • Grammatical function, pragmatic meaning,…
      • Production
        • Intelligible pronunciation, an essential component of communicative competence

(see Chun 2002)

teaching intonation
Teaching intonation
  • Main cross-linguistic intonational differences:
  • Differences in the tonal inventory
        • E.g. a fall instead of rise
  • Differences in the meaning or use of identical patterns
  • Phonetic and phonotactic differences:
      • In the realisation of such pitch accents
        • E.g. in the exact realisation (‘alignment’ and ‘scaling’) of a rise
        • In the internal structure of tonal elements and/or how they associate to the segmental material

(See Ladd 1996: 119ff, Gussenhoven 2004: 60ff)

phonetic differences

La niñamorenacome mandarinas

L+>H* L+>H*/ L+H* !H* L-L%

(‘The girl with brown hair is eating mandarines’)

Phonetic differences

Castilian: prenuclear rises reach postnuclear syllabes, as in ‘niña’and ‘morena’

Galician: prenuclear rises end at the end of the stressed syllable, e.g. ni’ and ‘re’

interrogative intonation
Interrogative intonation

(1) Statement: ‘It’s raining’.

(2) Declarative question: ‘It's raining?’

(3) Yes-no question: ‘Is it raining?’

  • Intonation only carries the distinction between:
    • (1) statement
    • (2) declarative question (yes-questions without syntactic marking)
    • In English, Spanish, Greek, etc…
spanish interrogative intonation
Spanish interrogative intonation
  • Declarative questions differ from statements in that they have:
    • (i) a higher initial peak
    • (ii) no medial rises
    • (iii) a sharp rise at the end
  • The most salient perceptual cue for questions is (iii), the final rise
    • Perceptual relevance of final rise possibly universal (cf. Gussenhoven 2004: 80ff)
    • But L1 listeners can also use (i) and (ii); they don’t have to wait until the end




English intonation

  • Declarative questions differ from statements in the final end:
    • Final fall in statements
    • Final rise in questions
  • No early cues unlike in Spanish (e.g. Wells 2006)

(Grabe et al 2003)


Perceptual experiment*:

  • Goal: testing robustness of intonation cues of Spanish declarative questions and statements for L1 and L2 speakers of Spanish
  • Spanish listeners can discriminate declarative questions and statements by listening just to the beginning (e.g. Navarro Tomás 1944, Face 2005, 2007)
  • Research questions:
    • Can British learners discriminate between declarative questions and statements by the first intonational peak?
    • If so, will they show differences in performance according to language level?

* Joint work with María Dolores García Verdugo. Preliminary results presented at EUROSLA 2009 and EUROCALL 2009.

Experimental material

Test sentences read by female and male Madrid speakers (AMPER corpus):

La guitarra se toca con paciencia

La guitarraespañolase toca con paciencia

La guitarra se toca con pacienciainfinita

Identification experiment:

“La guitarra” cut and used as stimuli

3 practice trials + 12 test questions


Online: experiment set up as a quiz in Moodle












  • Questions


  • Participants: 48
    • L1 Spanish: 15
      • Madrid
    • L2 listeners at 4 levels: 33
      • Advanced: 13
      • Intermediate: 8
      • Beginners (5) + “Some words” (7): 12

Results: Scores


sig. differences


Eta Sq=0.561

Posthocs, confirm sig. differences:





Results: Time taken


no statistically significant differences


Summary of findings

  • L2 participants performed according to their level of language competence, as expected
  • Effect of language competence:
    • [Native ~ Advanced ] > [Intermediate ~ Beginners]
  • No difference between
    • Native and Advanced level
    • Intermediate and Beginners
  • Learners can acquire L2 intonation even to the finest phonetic detail

Implications for the curriculum

  • Is intonation worth teaching? And rhythm?
  • Implications for the curriculum:
    • Need to define objectives and outcomes of teaching prosody
      • Improving learners’ comprehension?
      • Improving pragmatic competence?
      • Improving intelligibility?
      • Reducing foreign accent?
    • Need to identify relevant L1-L2 contrasts
      • Rhythm, pitch range, pitch accents (density, types, realization)

Vowel reduction: unstressed syllables are shorter and more centralized

Stressed vowels at roughly equal distance

Governance [ˡgʌ.vɘ.nɘnts] [ˡgʌv.nɘnts]





No vowel reduction:

Syllables of roughly equal duration

Governancia [go.ßeɾ.ˡnan.θja]

(See also Dauer 1986, Ramus et al 1999, Grabe et al 1999)



Cat: La mare de la Jana és de Badalona.

Eng: The mother of Susana is from Badalona.

Sp: La madre de Susana es de Badalona.

Delta C


Distribution of languages (Catalan, English, Spanish) over the Delta C-%V, plane.

Prieto et al (submitted)

intonational plasticity


Intonational plasticity

Germanic lang

fixed word order

pitch accents move

Romance lang

free word order

syntactic constituents move

‘¿Juan ganó la lotería?’

‘No. La lotería, la ganó Pedro’

‘No, fue Pedro’

‘Did John win the lottery?’

‘No, PETER won the lottery’

(Vallduví1994, Vallduví & Engdahl1996; Steedman2000)


Discussion: VLE systems

  • VLEs such as Moodle can be used at different stages of curriculum design and implementation:
    • To identify learner’s needs
      • Through perception and production tests
    • To deliver teaching
      • Yes, it can be used to teach pronunciation (segmentals and intonation, oral comprehension, dialects,...)
    • To evaluate outcomes at different stages

Example: Moodle Forum


12 Spanish

(Las Palmas, UNED)

30 English (Cambridge U.)

Method: one activity per week, 5 weeks.

March 2009

thanks questions

Thanks! Questions?

Lluïsa Astruc

The Open University & The University of Cambridge


  • Chun, D. M.(2002) Discourse intonation in L2. From theory and research to practice. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Dauer, R. M. (1983). Stress-timing and syllable-timing reanalyzed. Journal of Phonetics, 11, 51-62.
  • Face, T. L. (2005): «F0 peak height and the perception of sentence type in Castilian Spanish», Revista Internacional de Lingüística Iberoamericana, 2 (6), 49-65.
  • Face, T.L. (2007) The role of intonational cues in the perception of declaratives and absolute interrogatives in Castilian Spanish. EFE, XVI, 185-225.
  • Gussenhoven, C. (2004) The phonology of tone and intonation. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Grabe, E., Watson, I. and Post, B. (1999). The acquisition of rhythmic patterns in English and French. In Proceedings ICPhS 1999, San Francisco, 1201-1204.
  • Grabe, E., Kochanski, G. and Coleman, J. (2003). Quantitative modelling of intonational Variation. PDF. Proceedings of Speech Analysis and Recognition in Technology, Linguistics and Medicine.
  • Navarro Tomás, T. (1944): Manual de entonación española, New York: Hispanic Institute in the United States.
  • Prieto, P., Vanrell, M.M., Astruc, L., Payne, E., Post, B. (submitted) Prosodic temporal organization and speech rhythm. Evidence from Catalan, English, and Spanish.
  • Ramus, F., Nespor, M., & Mehler, J. (1999). Correlates of linguistic rhythm in the speech signal. Cognition, 73, 265-292.
  • Steedman, M. (2000) Information structure and the syntax-phonology interface. Linguistic Inquiry 31: 649-689.
  • Vallduví, E. (1994) Detachment in Catalan and information packaging. Journal of Pragmatics 22, 573-601.
  • Vallduví, E., Engdahl, E. (1996) The linguistic realization of information packaging. Linguistics 34: 459-519.
  • Wells, J.C. (2006) English intonation. Cambridge: CUP.