The impact of Parkinson’s disease on vocal-prosodic communication from the perspective of listeners

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An expressive disturbance of speech prosody has long been associated with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (PD), but little is known about the impact of dysprosody on vocal-prosodic communication from the perspective of listeners. Recordings of healthy adults (n = 12) and adults with mild to moderate PD (n = 21) were elicited in four speech contexts in which prosody serves a primary function in linguistic or emotive communication (phonemic stress, contrastive stress, sentence mode, and emotional prosody). Twenty independent listeners naive to the disease status of individual speakers then judged the intended meanings conveyed by prosody for tokens recorded in each condition. Findings indicated that PD speakers were less successful at communicating stress distinctions, especially words produced with contrastive stress, which were identifiable to listeners. Listeners were also significantly less able to detect intended emotional qualities of Parkinsonian speech, especially for anger and disgust. Emotional expressions that were correctly recognized by listeners were consistently rated as less intense for the PD group. Utterances produced by PD speakers were frequently characterized as sounding sad or devoid of emotion entirely (neutral). Results argue that motor limitations on the vocal apparatus in PD produce serious and early negative repercussions on communication through prosody, which diminish the social-linguistic competence of Parkinsonian adults as judged by listeners.

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