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

Postdoc researcher

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 it 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 is to gain insights into the universal and language-specific aspects of PBL, testing for a connection between the initiation of PBL and properties of the prosodic system of a language.

Insights regarding the specification of the PBL domain are also 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, they 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.


13 December 2019 Poster presentation at the 6th NINJAL International Conference on Phonetics and Phonology, Tokyo
27 September 2019 Talk at the 15th Phonetik und Phonologie Tagung, University of Düsseldorf
6 September 2019 Lunch talk at the North West University, School of Languages, Potchefstroom, South Africa
5-7 September 2019 Research visit at the North West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
9 July 2019 Colloquium talk at the University of Potsdam, Linguistics Department, Neurolinguistics Colloquium
18 April 2019 Discussion of methods with the Expsy group, University of Stuttgart, Institute of Linguistics
8 February 2019 Project presentation at the University of Stuttgart, Institute of Linguistics, Research Colloquium Phonology


Sabine Zerbian
Prof. Dr.

Sabine Zerbian



Fabian Schubö

Research Associate

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