In most studies on prosodIc structure, two or three levels of constituency above the prosodic word are usually assumed: the accentual phrase (also named minor phrase or clitic group), the intermediate phrase (also named major phrase or phonological phrase) and the intonational phrase. The different names assigned to these units often reflect distinct perspectives in apprehending prosodic structure, among which we may distinguish an intonation-based approach and a grammatically-driven approach. Because of these differences, endless debates exist on the validity of the various units.
In this communication, based on analysis of French prosody and on an examination of the intermediate phrase, we will argue for an approach that clearly distinguishes between metrically and intonationally-based prosodic units. First, we will clarify the extension and status of the intermediate phrase in such a way as to consider it essentially as a metrically-driven prosodic unit. Second, a distinction will be made between this metrically-driven phrase and two types of intonational phrases on the basis of the intonational contours occurring at their right edge.
This proposal is based on (a) the inventory and possible realisations of the contours at the right edge of these phrases, and (b) their relation with the morpho-syntactic and semantic structures. Note that our proposal accounts for phrasing and intonation contour choice at the underlying phonological level, the way the contours are realized being seen as resulting from choices made in other parts of the grammar and from performance factors.