An experiment was conducted to assess phonetic evidence for categorically distinct prosodic structures associated with two types of relative clauses in English. Non-restrictive relative clauses (NRRCs) and restrictive relative clauses (RRCs) have been argued to be typically produced with different prosodic phrase structures.
To test whether there is evidence for this, productions of the two relative clauses were elicited. A wide range of variation in speech rate was elicited by using a moving visual analogue which cued participants for rate variation. Acoustic and articulatory data were collected from twelve participants. We assessed whether the functional relations between speech rate and various phonetic measures at phrase boundaries differed by syntactic context. In addition, linear and sigmoidal models were fit to each of the articulatory and acoustic measures within each syntactic context, and the corrected Akaike Information Criterion (AICc) was used to determine whether the sigmoidal model provides a substantially better fit than the linear model.
Although most of the phonetic measures showed a significant difference between the two syntactic structures, which provides some evidence for distinct prosodic categories, the non-linearity analyses in both structures showed weak evidence for categorical variation in prosodic structure.