Decoding speech prosody in five languages

William Forde Thompson 1 , 1  and L-L Balkwill 2 , 2
  • 1 University of Toronto at Mississauga.
  • 2 Queen' University.


Twenty English-speaking listeners judged the emotive intent of utterances spoken by male and female speakers of English, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Tagalog. The verbal content of utterances was neutral but prosodic elements conveyed each of four emotions: joy, anger, sadness, and fear. Identification accuracy was above chance performance levels for all emotions in all languages. Across languages, sadness and anger were more accurately recognized than joy and fear. Listeners showed an in-group advantage for decoding emotional prosody, with highest recognition rates for English utterances and lowest recognition rates for Japanese and Chinese utterances. Acoustic properties of stimuli were correlated with the intended emotion expressed. Our results support the view that emotional prosody is decoded by a combination of universal and culture-specific cues.

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The official journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969 as one of the first scholarly journals in the field, Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in the field, and occasional guest editorials and reports. The journal also publishes occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest.