Identifying Prosodic Contrasts in Utterances Produced by 4-, 7-, and 11-Year-Old Children

Patel, Rupal; Brayton, Julie T.
June 2009
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Jun2009, Vol. 52 Issue 3, p790
Academic Journal
Purpose: Acquisition of prosodic control appears to evolve across development with younger children relying on durational cues and older children utilizing a broader spectrum of cues including fundamental frequency, intensity, and duration. This study aimed to determine whether unfamiliar listeners could identify prosodic contrasts produced by 4-, 7-, and 11-year-olds despite differences in acoustic cues used by each age group. Method: Thirty-six adult monolingual speakers of American English participated as listeners. A previous study yielded speech recordings from 12 children (2 male, 2 female from each age group) producing 2 linguistic contrasts, question-statement and contrastive stress, which served as listening stimuli. Results: In both tasks, listener accuracy ranged from 39.7% to 100% with significant differences between 4-year-olds and both older age groups. Listeners had difficulty deciphering the 4-year-olds' questions compared with statements and were more accurate in identifying contrastive stress placed on sentence-initial words compared with sentence-final words across all age groups. Conclusion: Although listeners identified prosodic contrasts produced by all 3 age groups, accuracy was significantly higher for 7- and 11-year-old productions. Findings are consistent with production studies that suggest relative stabilization of prosodic control between ages 4 and 7. Parallels between prosodic and segmental acquisition are discussed.


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