Russian wh-question intonation: experimental data on some sources of variation

2021. № 1 (41), 137-177

Pavel V. Duryagin
Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
(Venice, Italy)


The paper presents the results of an experimental study of prosody in Russian whquestions.
The data were elicited by means of a dialogue reading task performed by 20 native
speakers of Standard Russian. The results generally corroborate existing reports on the variability
of pitch contours, making it possible to determine the basic types of tonal configurations
and propose a preliminary phonological interpretation for these contours within the
Autosegmental metrical model of intonation. Four different configurations of accents were
found in the data: on the one hand, three “falling” contours containing a low edge tone preceded
by different combinations of prenuclear accents; on the other hand, a single “rising”
contour containing a high edge tone. In addition, effects of two factors on the choice of question
tune were tested: focus type and presence of phrase-initial particle. Both effects were
found to be significant. While contrastive focus restricted the use of the high edge tone configuration
(to a varying extent, depending on the syntactic role of the word in focus), the rising
tune was more likely to be chosen in the presence of the particle.