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Trends Cogn Sci. 2006 Jun;10(6):244-9. Epub 2006 May 2.

Prosodic phrasing is central to language comprehension.

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Department of Linguistics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, 01003, USA.


Words, like musical notes, are grouped together into phrases by their rhythmic and durational properties as well as their tonal pitch. This 'prosodic phrasing' affects the understanding of sentences. Many processing studies of prosody have investigated sentences with a single, grammatically required prosodic boundary, which might be interpreted strictly locally, as a signal to end the current syntactic unit. Recent results suggest, however, that the global pattern of prosodic phrasing is what matters in sentence comprehension, not just the occurrence or size of a single local boundary. In this article we claim that the impact of prosodic boundaries depends on the other prosodic choices a speaker has made. We speculate that prosody serves to hold distinct linguistic representations together in memory.

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