Z.L. Zhou


  • Learnability and exceptionality
  • Phonologization
  • The phonetics-phonology interface
  • Intonation

Current projects

Metalinguistic focus

Focus in English happens in question and correction contexts:

(1)You threw up on Annabell?
(2)No, Cynthia threw up on Annabell.

It is marked by both the appearance of a L+H* pitch accent on the focused word and also the deaccenting of all other words in the sentence — notice how (3) sounds like correcting Annabell and not Cynthia:

(2)No, Cynthia threw up on Annabell.
(3)#No, Cynthia threw up on Annabell.

It has been established that focus can be applied below the level of the word (Artstein, 2004), but no studies have been done on its realization, although it exhibits some interesting effects. For example, it seems to not affect vowel reduction, even though it affects stress placement:

(4)I don't like morphology, I like [ˈfʌ]nology.
(5)*I don't like morphology, I like [ˈfoʊ̯]nology.
(6)#I don't like morphology, I like [fəˈnɑ]logy.

Question: what is the exact realization of meta­linguistic focus? What im­pli­cations might this have for the morphology-syntax interface? For the syntax-phonology interface?

Newscaster voice

I am working with Byron Ahn of the Linguistics Innovation Lab at Princeton University on the phonetic cues of sounding like a newscaster. We are investigating various intonational behaviors in hopes of finding a correlation between those behaviors and perceived newscaster-ness.

Preliminary analysis has shown some interesting results: we have found that the amount of accented words does not seem to have an effect on the perceived newscaster-ness of a speaker, even though the general intuition is that newscasters emphasize more words. Controlling for gender, we have found that a lower pitch range only mildly increases the perceived newscaster-ness of a speaker, but a lower pitch floor significantly increases perceived newscaster-ness; we have found that newscasters spend much less time in the lowest quartiles of their range than non-newscasters. Surprisingly, we have also found that speech rate has minimal effect on perceived newscaster-ness.

This is part of a larger project with Professors Donna Jo Napoli and Emily Gasser at Swarthmore College on the phonetic cues of authority in English.