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Utterance-final position and pitch marking aid word learning in school-age children

Filippi, P., Laaha, S., & Fitch, W. T. (2017). Utterance-final position and pitch marking aid word learning in school-age children. Royal Society Open Science, 4: 161035. doi:10.1098/rsos.161035.
We investigated the effects of word order and prosody on word learning in school-age children. Third graders viewed photographs belonging to one of three semantic categories while hearing four-word nonsense utterances containing a target word. In the control condition, all words had the same pitch and, across trials, the position of the target word was varied systematically within each utterance. The only cue to word–meaning mapping was the co-occurrence of target words and referents. This cue was present in all conditions. In the Utterance-final condition, the target word always occurred in utterance-final position, and at the same fundamental frequency as all the other words of the utterance. In the Pitch peak condition, the position of the target word was varied systematically within each utterance across trials, and produced with pitch contrasts typical of infant-directed speech (IDS). In the Pitch peak + Utterance-final condition, the target word always occurred in utterance-final position, and was marked with a pitch contrast typical of IDS. Word learning occurred in all conditions except the control condition. Moreover, learning performance was significantly higher than that observed with simple co-occurrence (control condition) only for the Pitch peak + Utterance-final condition. We conclude that, for school-age children, the combination of words' utterance-final alignment and pitch enhancement boosts word learning.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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