Attitudinal meaning: prosodic and visual aspects (João Antônio de Moraes – UFRJ/CNPq)

The concept of prosodic attitude generally refers to the expression of social affects, voluntarily controlled by the speaker (Fónagy 2000). Their acoustic manifestation is linked to the culture and the language of the speaker, and differs on that point from basic emotional expressions, which may be seen as more spontaneous and universal  (Ekman & Davidson 1994, Scherer & Bänziger 2002). However, inside the set of attitudinal expressions, two cognitively different categories of attitudes should be set apart: (i) propositional attitudes, which interfere with the propositional content of the sentence being presented to the interlocutor (e.g. with irony, incredulity, obviousness etc.) and (ii) social attitudes, which refer to the social interpersonal relationship established by a speaker with his/her interlocutor (e.g. with politeness, arrogance etc.) (Moraes et al. 2010).
Our goal is to investigate whether the difference between propositional (PA) and social attitudes (SA) is reflected in their manifestation, both on the production and perception levels.
Six social attitudes (arrogance, authority, contempt, irritation, politeness and seduction) along with nine propositional attitudes, of which 5 assertive (doubt, irony, incredulity, obviousness, surprise) and 4 interrogative (incredulity, rhetoricity, confirmation and surprise ) were analyzed from a production and a perception perspective, based on  audio-visual performances of these attitudes by two native speakers of BP as well as on their recognition by Brazilian listeners. Each attitude was performed on the same semantically neutral 6 syllable long Portuguese sentence Roberta dançava (Roberta was dancing).
A recognition test was set up in order to validate the speakers’ performances. Attitudes, grouped in both categories (social or propositional) and separated by modality as well (assertive and interrogative), were presented to 30 subjects in three possible conditions: audio-only, visual-only and audio-visual. Subjects had to recognize the presented attitude during a forced-choice paradigm, amongst a list of 5 to 7 possible answers, which included all the attitudes of the given category, plus the neutral expression.
The results show that propositional and social attitudes presented different perceptual and acoustic behaviors. As the former are directly linked to the linguistic content of the utterance, they were expected to be more strongly related to acoustic variations – and the results support this expectation: in the perceptual tests, subjects rely clearly on both audio and visual cues for the identification of propositional expressions, while they mainly use visual cues for socially motivated attitudes. However, audio cues have an important role in perception, if not a primary one: they are used to disambiguate some visual expressions, as well as to construct the detailed meaning of each expressivity.
From a production point of view, the acoustic analysis reveals that the melodic contours of utterances, conveying social attitude, show narrower and global F0 variations, which may explain the less important role played by audio presentation in expressing these attitudes. The propositional attitudes, on the other hand, present more important local modifications in their F0 contour, which in fact changes their basic melodic configurations and are likely to be represented by a phonological system such as the ToBI, proposed by autosegmental phonology (Moraes 2008).
Ekman , P. and Davidson, R. (eds.) The Nature of Emotion: fundamental questions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Fónagy, I. Languages within Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2000.
Moraes, J. The Pitch Accents in Brazilian Portuguese: analysis by synthesis”, In: Barbosa, P., Madureira, S. and Reis, C. (eds.) Proceedings of the Speech Prosody 2008.
Moraes, J., Rilliard, A. Mota, B. e Shochi, T. “Multimodal perception and production of attitudinal meaning in Brazilian Portuguese”. Proceedings Speech Prosody 2010.
Scherer, K. and Bänziger, T. Emotional expression in prosody: a review and an agenda for future research. Proceedings Speech Prosody 2002.