Prosody and breathing: A comparison between rhetorical and informationseeking questions in German and Brazilian Portuguese

Jana Neitsch, Plinio Barbosa, Oliver Niebuhr

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Several studies have shown that rhetorical wh-questions (RQs) and string-identical information-seeking wh-questions (ISQs) are realized with different prosodic characteristics. In contrast to ISQs, RQs have been shown to be phonetically realized with a breathier (i.e., softer) voice quality (e.g., German and English) and longer constituent durations (e.g., German, English, Icelandic). Based on similar results found for different languages, we investigate wh-RQs and sting-identical wh-ISQs in Brazilian Portuguese (BP) and German (G). We analyze (i) whether specific duration and voice-quality patterns characterize and separate the two illocution types (RQ and ISQ) in BP, and (ii) if direct measures of the respiratory sub-system reveal differences between illocution types, given that breathiness involves greater transglottal air flow which can be observed in the speakers’ chest and/or abdomen movement. Our data suggest that, similar to G, English, and Icelandic, duration and voice quality patterns play a role in the realization of RQs compared to ISQs in BP, reinforcing the assumption that there are cross-linguistically similar phonetic features in the realization of RQs compared to ISQs. We also find that speakers of G breathe in more deeply and dynamically than speakers of BP, suggesting a link between breathing and voice quality.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of Interspeech 2020
PublisherInternational Speech Communication Association (ISCA)
Publication date27. Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 27. Oct 2020
EventInterspeech 2020 - Shanghai, China
Duration: 25. Oct 202029. Oct 2020


ConferenceInterspeech 2020
SeriesProceedings of the International Conference on Spoken Language Processing

Bibliographical note

Online due to covid19


  • Rhetorical questions
  • German
  • Brazilian Portuguese
  • voice quality
  • duration
  • breathing
  • speech
  • Voice quality
  • Duration
  • Breathing


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