Are Indonesians sensitive to contrastive accentuation below the word level?

Vincent J. van Heuven, Vera Faust


It is impossible in Indonesian to express narrow-focus meta-linguistic contrasts
on subparts of words (whether meaningless syllables or meaningful morphemes).
In English and Dutch this possibility exists, as in I meant coffin not coffer or I said
meaningful not meaningless. We predict from this circumstance that Indonesian
learners of Dutch will not be sensitive to this type of prosodic contrast marking at
the sub-word level. Native Dutch speakers should be able to make functional use
of this type of contrast. We conducted an experiment with thirteen Indonesian
learners of Dutch with lengths of residence in the Netherlands between 3
weeks and 27 years, and a group of thirteen native Dutch speakers as controls.
The results show that the Indonesian learners perform at chance level, and are
therefore insensitive to narrow-focus contrasts below the word level. Dutch
learners are highly sensitive to these contrasts on average, although three out of
thirteen performed at chance level. We argue from these results that Indonesian
has no word stress.


Accent, Dutch, focus, Indonesian, meta-linguistic contrast, second-language acquisition of prosodic functions, stress, word-prosodic typology.

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