The interplay of prosodic prominence and semantic (non-) compositionality in non-lexicalized English adjective-noun combinations10.1515/9783110501933.
The paper discusses the relation between stress and meaning in nonlexicalized English adjective-noun (AN) combinations. Native speakers of American English were recorded in a production study while reading sentences containing AN constructions such as black tram. These items could be interpreted in either a compositional (e.g., a tram that is black) or a non-compositional way (e.g., a tram that runs only during the night). The objective of the experiment was twofold. First, it aimed at examining whether non-lexicalized constructions with a non-compositional meaning were stressed differently than their compositional counterparts. Second, it was investigated whether stress assignment in non-compositional items further depended on whether the non-compositional meaning was explicitly marked by the immediate context. Possible acoustic correlates of stress, i.e., fundamental frequency, duration, and intensity were measured and analyzed. Overall, while the items with implied noncompositional semantics showed a clear tendency towards initial stress, the combinations with compositional meanings did not. Moreover, the constructions whose non-compositional semantics were explicitly marked by the immediate context tended not to carry initial stress either. I argue that initial stress seems to mark non-compositional semantics only if the non-compositional meaning is not explicitly marked by a different means already. The results are interpreted against the background of the interaction of semantic and phonetic aspects in language production.