Intonation is an important component of speech. It organizes speech into easy-to-process pieces of information for the listener, and it can distinguish ambiguous sentences. All verbal utterances use some type of intonation. Intonation consists of increases and decreases in voice pitch that tell a listener whether an utterance is a question, contradiction, or specially emphasized; it also includes pauses at relevant moments in the utterance. Under the joint direction of Dr. Kenneth de Jong and Dr. Albert Valdman, Ms. Iskra Iskrova will examine prosody and intonation in two French-based creoles in the Caribbean, Haitian and Guadeloupean. She will analyze the intonational changes in pitch and provide a description of the linguistically meaningful patterns. Intonation data based on spontaneous verbal utterances will be collected in Guadeloupe from native Guadeloupean speakers and Haitian immigrants on the island. The data will be transcribed using the most up-to-date transcription conventions based on the acoustic analysis of the sound wave. This study of intonation will complement the existing grammatical description of the two languages. The project is of particular interest because it examines Creole languages, which are relatively poorly documented and understudied. The comparison of two related Creoles will further our understanding of Creoles that have developed from the same lexical donor language (French). New data on intonation from less common spoken languages will increase our understanding of intonational systems in languages of the world.
The research project will make a significant contribution both to the field of Creole studies and to intonational phonology. It will increase the body of data available for comparative intonation studies. Creoles offer the opportunity to investigate how linguistic material from various languages interacts in the context of multiple language contact. There has been little research on the interference between two different intonation systems in second language learning, and it is not clear what the interactions were across multiple languages in the process of Creole formation. This project forms the foundation of such a model.