V. 51 N. 1 (2013)

The interaction of pitch accent and gesture production in Italian and English

Diane Brentari
Department of Linguistics University of Chicago
Giovanna Marotta
Dipartimento di Filologia, Letteratura e Linguistica Università di Pisa
Ilaria Margherita
Dipartimento di Filologia, Letteratura e Linguistica Università di Pisa
Angela Ott
Linguistics Program Purdue University

Pubblicato 2013-07-31

Parole chiave

  • Prominence,
  • co-speech gesture,
  • pitch accents,
  • audio-visual prosody,


This article addresses the way that gesture and speech prominence are manifest in twodifferent linguistic communities – Italian and American English. Controlled and freenarratives were elicited from three adult American females (Midwestern variety) andthree adult Italian females (Florentine variety) and analyzed using a method designedto measure the properties associated with pitch accents, those of gestures, and thealignment of the two together in naturally occurring speech. The results suggest someimportant similarities as well as some differences between American and Italian speakers.In cases where the pitch accent is not totally contained within the domain of thegesture, both groups tended to produce gestures that preceded the onset of the pitchaccent, confirming previous work. Both groups overwhelmingly also used manualgestures of the hands for iconic gestures. There was a difference in the expression ofprosodic gestures: while both American and Italian groups produced a greater numberof prosodic gestures with the hands than the body, the Italians exhibited a strongerpreference to do so. The vowels of the English speakers were also more affected by thepresence of a gesture than those of the Italian speakers. The trends found in the resultsof this study suggest that there may be cross-linguistic differences in the properties andalignment of gestures, but larger groups of participants will be needed to conclude thiswith certainty, since there was a high degree of between-subject variation. In both Italianand US English, these data provide evidence for the existence of one, multi-modalsystem involving speech and co-speech gestures that constitutes an integrated prosodicsystem of a language.