The Development of Distinct Speaking Styles in Preschool Children

Redford, Melissa A.; Gildersleeve-Neumann, Christina E.
December 2009
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Dec2009, Vol. 52 Issue 6, p1434
Academic Journal
Purpose: To examine when and how socially conditioned distinct speaking styles emerge in typically developing preschool children's speech. Method: Thirty preschool children, ages 3, 4, and 5 years old, produced target monosyllabic words with monophthongal vowels in different social-functional contexts designed to elicit clear and casual speaking styles. Thirty adult listeners were used to assess whether and at what age style differences were perceptible. Children's speech was acoustically analyzed to evaluate how style-dependent differences were produced. Results: The ratings indicated that listeners could not discern style differences in 3-year-olds' speech but could hear distinct styles in 4-year-olds' and especially in 5-year-olds' speech. The acoustic measurements were consistent with these results: Style-dependent differences in 4- and 5-year-olds' words included shorter vowel durations and lower fundamental frequency in clear compared with casual speech words. Five-year-olds' clear speech words also had more final stop releases and initial sibilants with higher spectral energy than did their casual speech words. Formant frequency measures showed no style-dependent differences in vowel production at any age nor any differences in initial stop voice onset times. Conclusion: Overall, the findings suggest that distinct styles develop slowly and that early style-dependent differences in children's speech are unlike those observed in adult clear and casual speech. Children may not develop adultlike styles until they have acquired expert articulatory control and the ability to highlight the internal structure of an articulatory plan for a listener.


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