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Prosodic focus-marking in Chinese four- and eight-year-olds

Yang, A., & Chen, A. (2014). Prosodic focus-marking in Chinese four- and eight-year-olds. In N. Campbell, D. Gibbon, & D. Hirst (Eds.), Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2014 (pp. 713-717).
This study investigates how Mandarin Chinese speaking children use prosody to distinguish focus from non-focus, and focus types differing in size of constituent and contrastivity. SVO sentences were elicited from four- and eight-year-olds in a game setting. Sentence-medial verbs were acoustically analysed for both duration and pitch range in different focus conditions. The children started to use duration to differentiate focus from non-focus at the age of four. But their use of pitch range varied with age and depended on non-focus conditions (pre- vs. postfocus) and the lexical tones of the verbs. Further, the children in both age groups used pitch range but not duration to differentiate narrow focus from broad focus, and they did not differentiate contrastive narrow focus from non-contrastive narrow focus using duration or pitch range. The results indicated that Chinese children acquire the prosodic means (duration and pitch range) of marking focus in stages, and their acquisition of these two means appear to be early, compared to children speaking an intonation language, for example, Dutch.
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