Listeners may rely on intonation to distinguish languages of different rhythm classes


  • Lea Hagmann Center for the Study of Language and Society (CSLS), University of Bern
  • Volker Dellwo Department of Comparative Linguistics, University of Zurich



rhythm, intonation, typology, perception


Previous research argued that listeners can distinguish between languages of different rhythm class but not of the same class (class discrimination hypothesis). In the present research we tested the role of duration and pitch cues (intonation) in this process. In Experiment I we tested whether we could replicate previous findings on listeners’ language discrimination ability with native Swiss German listeners. Results showed that the discrimination of English and Japanese based on durational cues led to the same results as in previous experiments. In Experiment II we tested listeners’ ability to distinguish between languages belonging to different rhythm classes (English-French, French-Japanese, Spanish-Japanese) and the same rhythm class (Spanish-French). Results revealed that listeners’ distinction was not above chance level for all language contrasts. In Experiment III we added intonation to a French- English and a Spanish-French language contrast. Results revealed a significant effect of intonation for the French- English but not the Spanish-French contrast. The experiments showed that the primary cue for listeners to distinguish between languages of different rhythm class is not generally duration, as previously hypothesized, but it can also be intonation. Implications of the findings on the theory that languages can be classified according to their speech rhythm (rhythm class hypothesis) are discussed.


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How to Cite

Hagmann, L., & Dellwo, V. (2014). Listeners may rely on intonation to distinguish languages of different rhythm classes. Loquens, 1(1), e008.