Institute of English Linguistics (IfLA)

Pre-boundary lengthening in a cross-linguistic perspective

This project investigates the lengthening patterns induced by prosodic boundaries in German, French, and Tswana.

General information

Project term

February 2019 – January 2022


German Research Foundation (DFG)

Principal investigator

Prof. Dr. Sabine Zerbian


Dr. Fabian Schubö

Student assistant

Nadja Spina


One of the major correlates of prosodic phrasing is the lengthening of material immediately preceding the phrase boundary. This effect, referred to as ‘pre-boundary lengthening’ (PBL), has been attested as a stable correlate of boundary production and a reliable cue for boundary perception. The presence of PBL in various languages suggests that it might be a universal tendency; yet, it has also been shown that PBL is implemented in language-specific ways and must be learnt by speakers. The project addresses open questions concerning the stretch of speech, or domain, that undergoes lengthening, the temporal dynamics within this domain, and the cross-linguistic differences of these aspects. The investigation involves a series of production studies on the domain and dynamics of PBL in German, French, and Tswana. The objective of these studies is to gain insights into the universal and language-specific aspects of PBL, also testing for a connection between properties of PBL and the prosodic system of a language.

The insights to be gained in the framework of this project are directly relevant for a better understanding of the perception of PBL, guiding the development of hypotheses about how listeners exploit temporal patterns for boundary detection. Furthermore, the insights can contribute to research on cognitive grouping beyond speech prosody, such as visual grouping or musical phrasing. Since the marking of a boundary by means of lengthening is not specific to speech, patterns of PBL in speech production may also be present in other modalities that involve cognitive grouping.


9 July 2019 Invited talk at the "Neurolinguistics Colloquium", University of Potsdam, Linguistics Department
18 April 2019 Presentation at the Expsy group, University of Stuttgart
8 February 2019 Presentation at the "Research Colloquium Phonology", University of Stuttgart, Institute of English Linguistics