PhD defence Na Hu: Objective Causality, Subjective Causality and Prosodic Variation

Een vrouw legt iets uit. Foto: Jessica Da Rosa, via Unsplash
Photo: Jessica Da Rosa, via Unsplash

On 10 February, Na Hu will defend her thesis ‘Speaking of Causality: On the Role of Prosody in Communicating Subjective and Objective Causality in Discourse’. Na Hu’s thesis provides insights into how different types of causality are communicated in the spoken language. It shows that not only lexical information, such as specialised causal connectives, but also prosodic information plays a crucial role.

Objective and subjective causality

Language users distinguish between different types of causal relations, including objective causality, which involves only actual events, as in “My daughter had a fight with her best friend so she cried”, and subjective causality, which involves mental events such as inferences, as in “My daughter cried so maybe she had a fight with her best friend.”

Previous research has shown that lexical markers, such as specialised causal connectives ( e.g., ‘want’ and ‘omdat’ in Dutch), can help people determine which type of causality speakers intend to express. In her PhD thesis, Hu focuses on the role of prosody in communicating these two types of causality.

Prosodic information

Hu first investigated the use of prosody to express objective and subjective causality in speech production. Then, she examined the effects of prosodic information on the construction of these two types of causality.

Hu found that in expressing these two types of causality, there is a trade-off between the use of prosody and the use of specialised causal connectives. She also found that the prosodic features of the English connective ‘so’ affect listeners’ expectations of the causal relations expressed in the upcoming discourse.

Start date and time
End date and time
Hybrid: online (click here) and at the Utrecht University Hall
PhD candidate
Na Hu
Speaking of Causality
PhD supervisor(s)
Professor T.J.M. Sanders
Professor H. Quené
Professor A. Chen
More information
Full text via Utrecht University Repository