This study investigates the production of English contrastive focus by 26 L1 Mandarin speakers (MS) and 21 native English speakers (ES). The participants completed an interactive game in which they directed experimenters to decorate objects, producing sentences with contrasted adjective or noun (e.g., Andy wants an orange diamond on his towel and a NAVY diamond/orange OVAL on Mindy’s towel). Our results show that while both groups were similar in their use of intensity, the MS used less lengthening of focused words than did ES. While both groups showed a pitch peak on focused adjectives, they differed in the noun-focus condition: while the MS exhibited what is normally considered canonical pitch prosody, with peaks on both focused adjectives and focused nouns, many of the ES’ productions lacked the expected pitch peak on a focused noun. The ES’ divergence from textbook focus prosody reflected their use of an innovative intonation pattern, especially prominent among young native English speakers (Wolk et al. 2012), which is characterized by pitch declination and an increase in vocal fry throughout the intonational phrase. We conclude that this intonation pattern restricted the ES’s ability to use pitch rises to mark focus on phrase-final nouns.

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