MPI Colloquium Prof. dr. Aoju Chen

16 April 2024 15:45 - 17:00
Max Planck Institute
Auditorium 163
Aoju Chen
Professor of Language Development | Department of Languages, Literature and Communication & Institute for Language Sciences | Utrecht University







From sound to structure: Infants’ perception of prosodic boundaries in speech


A speech perception skill fundamental to language development is to parse speech into smaller, potentially linguistically meaningful units or phrases. Across languages, speakers use prosody (e.g., lengthening in the phrase-final syllable, pitch change in utterance-medial/final positions, and pauses) to group words into such units or phrases in continuous speech, a process known as prosodic phrasing. However, the weighting of these cues in perception and production of prosodic boundaries can vary from one language to another.

Previous research has shown that infants demonstrate language-specific grouping preferences for non-linguistic sounds (e.g., pure tones) based on variations in pitch, duration or intensity at birth. Furthermore, infants transition from reliance on the simultaneous presence of multiple cues at 4 months to reliance on a subset of these cues at 6 months in their perception of major prosodic boundaries in speech. This developmental shift marks a crucial step toward adult-like cue-weighting in prosodic boundary perception and processing.

How do children develop such sophisticated prosodic abilities so early? In this talk, I will outline a multi-perspective approach spanning from the last trimester of pregnancy to the first year of life to address this question. Further, I will present recent work from my group informed on this approach on Dutch-learning infants’ and Dutch-speaking adults’ processing of prosodic boundaries, prosodic phrasing in infant- and adult-directed speech, visual cues to prosodic phrases in co-speech gestures, and influence of biologically-motivated innate attunement to boundary-marking prosodic cues.

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