Seminar from Antoine Tholly, Postdoctoral fellow at LIUM


Date: 17/05/2024
Time: 10h00
Localization: IC2, Boardroom
Speaker: Antoine Tholly

Prosody seen from the angle of semantic relations: the case of the imitative voice of words


Imitative prosody is a particular sector of prosody/intonation: it is a figure of speech that help to imagine the content of the target words (through variations in melody, sound volume, tempo, voice quality). For example, if I accelerate my voice while describing a fast action, I’m imitating that action. In more linguistic terms, we would say that this is a prosodic sign, the simplified form of which is /acceleration/, the meaning of which is ‘rapid movement’. Conversely, the opposite form could have been used for the opposite meaning (slowing down for slow action). Or the same form could have been used for a meaning that was partly identical and partly different (the representation of a sudden force, rather than a sudden movement). Imitative prosody involves multiple mechanisms of resemblance. The study of imitative prosody is an opportunity to introduce linguists and non-linguists alike to some of the fundamental procedures of linguistic analysis with a semiotic dimension:

  • motivation: a certain form is suggestive of a certain meaning, is not arbitrary. Imitative voice cumulates different motivational processes.
  • relevance: the voice selects only part of the meaning of the targeted words. A particular semantic chain links the imitative (the prosody) and the imitated (the words).
  • polysemy: several meanings emerge from the same form. These meanings are interconnected: one part of the meaning is identical (and another part of the meaning is different).
  • actualisation: how are these parts of the meaning interpreted? Because of the context, and/or independently of the context? Part of the meaning may come from the target words (cf. the relevance relationship), and part of the meaning may emerge from suggestions in the form (cf. the motivation relationship).
  • categorisation: how can we classify the diversity of imitative prosodic signs? In some respects they resemble grammatical signs (e.g. the highlighting of a word), and in other respects they resemble lexical signs (in that they produce thematic representations, e.g. in the domain of movement or force).
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