Prosody and the development of comprehension

Cutler, A., & Swinney, D. A. (1986). Prosody and the development of comprehension. Journal of Child Language, 14, 145-167.
Four studies are reported in which young children’s response time to detect word targets was measured. Children under about six years of age did not show response time advantage for accented target words which adult listeners show. When semantic focus of the target word was manipulated independently of accent, children of about five years of age showed an adult-like response time advantage for focussed targets, but children younger than five did not. Id is argued that the processing advantage for accented words reflect the semantic role of accent as an expression of sentence focus. Processing advantages for accented words depend on the prior development of representations of sentence semantic structure, including the concept of focus. The previous literature on the development of prosodic competence shows an apparent anomaly in that young children’s productive skills appear to outstrip their receptive skills; however, this anomaly disappears if very young children’s prosody is assumed to be produced without an underlying representation of the relationship between prosody and semantics.
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