Acquisition of prosodic focus marking by English, French, and German three-, four-, five- and six-year-olds*

Kriszta Szendrői, Carline Bernard, Frauke Berger, Judit Gervain, Barbara Höhle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Previous research on young children's knowledge of prosodic focus marking has revealed an apparent paradox, with comprehension appearing to lag behind production. Comprehension of prosodic focus is difficult to study experimentally due to its subtle and ambiguous contribution to pragmatic meaning. We designed a novel comprehension task, which revealed that three- to six-year-old children show adult-like comprehension of the prosodic marking of subject and object focus. Our findings thus support the view that production does not precede comprehension in the acquisition of focus. We tested participants speaking English, German, and French. All three languages allow prosodic subject and object focus marking, but use additional syntactic marking to varying degrees (English: dispreferred; German: possible; French preferred). French participants produced fewer subject marked responses than English participants. We found no other cross-linguistic differences. Participants interpreted prosodic focus marking similarly and in an adult-like fashion in all three languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-241
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Child Language
Volume45
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

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