Bringing indexical orders to non-arbitrary meaning: The case of pitch and politeness in English and Korean


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Ubiquity Press


In this study, we investigated whether the relationship between pitch and politeness is mediated through iconic relationships between pitch and other talker attributes, and whether these relationships can differ across languages. US and South Korean listeners completed a speaker perception task in which they heard utterances and rated the speaker on a number of attributes, including politeness. The pitch of each utterance was unmanipulated, raised, or lowered. The results confirm previous work suggesting that in Korean, lower pitch is associated with politeness, which contrasts with both the English results we find, and claims of a universal association between higher pitch and politeness (i.e., Ohala's Frequency Code). At the same time, the impact of pitch on attributes like perceived height, strength, and emotion are similar across listener groups: Speakers in higher pitched guises are heard as shorter, weaker, and more emotional. Like others, we argue that pitch can be associated, non-arbitrarily, with a range of meanings, but additionally appeal to orders of indexicality (Silverstein, 2003) to account for the similarities between the groups, as well as the differences. Our results are of significance for researchers looking at non-arbitrary meaning of acoustic cues as well as the acoustics of politeness, especially in interaction with polite registers in Korean.



Vocal expression, speech, japanese, perceptions, deference, prosody