In Spanish, each uttered phrase, depending on its use, has one of a variety of intonation patterns. For example, a phrase such as María viene mañana ‘Mary is coming tomorrow’ can be used as a declarative or as an absolute interrogative (a yes/no question) depending on the intonation pattern that a speaker produces.
Patterns of usage also depend on dialect. For example, the intonation of absolute interrogatives typically is characterized as having a contour with a final rise and this may be the most common ending for absolute interrogatives in most dialects. This is true of descriptions of Peninsular (European) Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Chilean Spanish, and many other dialects. However, in some dialects, such as Venezuelan Spanish, absolute interrogatives have a contour with a final fall (a pattern that is more generally associated with declarative utterances and pronominal interrogative utterances). Most noteworthy, in Buenos Aires Spanish, both interrogative patterns are observed. This dissertation examines intonation patterns in the Spanish dialect spoken in Buenos Aires, Argentina, focusing on the two patterns associated with absolute interrogatives. It addresses two sets of questions.
First, if a final fall contour is used for both interrogatives and declaratives, what other factors differentiate these utterances? The present study also explores other markers of the functional contrast between Spanish interrogatives and declaratives. The results of a comparative analysis of the first pitch accent and boundary tones of declarative syntax absolute interrogatives, interrogative syntax absolute interrogatives, pronominal interrogatives, and declaratives showed that the melodic curve of an interrogative phrase is distinct from that of a declarative from the beginning of the utterance. The high peak of the first pitch accent in an interrogative is significantly higher than in the corresponding declarative utterance, especially when the final contour is falling. Furthermore, the absolute interrogatives with final fall generally showed a trend for each accent peak to be “upstepped” relative to the preceding peak, while the declaratives always showed downstep across the utterance. Additionally, the global tonal ranges were also different between absolute interrogatives and declaratives: the absolute interrogatives contour with a final fall had a more expanded tonal range than the contour of declaratives.
Second, if both contours of absolute interrogatives are used by speakers in a neutral context, do speakers of this dialect use the different final contours to express pragmatic differences, such as the difference between neutral and “presumptive” absolute interrogatives (i.e., questions in which there is a bias toward ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer)? A comparative analysis showed that the difference between these two types of absolute interrogatives does not involve the final contour. Rather, the presumptive absolute interrogatives are realized with an expanded global pitch range.