Talk this way: The effect of prosodically conveyed semantic information on memory for novel words

Hadas Shintel, Nathan L. Anderson, Kimberly M. Fenn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Speakers modulate their prosody to express not only emotional information but also semantic information (e.g., raising pitch for upward motion). Moreover, this information can help listeners infer meaning. Work investigating the communicative role of prosodically conveyed meaning has focused on reference resolution, and potential mnemonic benefits remain unexplored. We investigated the effect of prosody on memory for the meaning of novel words, even when it conveys superfluous information. Participants heard novel words, produced with congruent or incongruent prosody, and viewed image pairs representing the intended meaning and its antonym (e.g., a small and a large dog). Importantly, an arrow indicated the image representing the intended meaning, resolving the ambiguity. Participants then completed 2 memory tests, either immediately after learning or after a 24-hr delay, on which they chose an image (out of a new image pair) and a definition that best represented the word. On the image test, memory was similar on the immediate test, but incongruent prosody led to greater loss over time. On the definition test, memory was better for congruent prosody at both times. Results suggest that listeners extract semantic information from prosody even when it is redundant and that prosody can enhance memory, beyond its role in comprehension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1437-1442
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Memory
  • Prosody
  • Spoken language processing
  • Word learning


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