The smooth signal redundancy hypothesis: a functional explanation for relationships between redundancy, prosodic prominence, and duration in spontaneous speech

Lang Speech. 2004;47(Pt 1):31-56. doi: 10.1177/00238309040470010201.


This paper explores two related factors which influence variation in duration, prosodic structure and redundancy in spontaneous speech. We argue that the constraint of producing robust communication while efficiently expending articulatory effort leads to an inverse relationship between language redundancy and duration. The inverse relationship improves communication robustness by spreading information more evenly across the speech signal, yielding a smoother signal redundancy profile. We argue that prosodic prominence is a linguistic means of achieving smooth signal redundancy. Prosodic prominence increases syllable duration and coincides to a large extent with unpredictable sections of speech, and thus leads to a smoother signal redundancy. The results of linear regressions carried out between measures of redundancy, syllable duration and prosodic structure in a large corpus of spontaneous speech confirm: (1) an inverse relationship between language redundancy and duration, and (2) a strong relationship between prosodic prominence and duration. The fact that a large proportion of the variance predicted by language redundancy and prosodic prominence is nonunique suggests that, in English, prosodic prominence structure is the means with which constraints caused by a robust signal requirement are expressed in spontaneous speech.

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Phonetics
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Speech Acoustics
  • Speech Perception
  • Speech*
  • Time Factors