Children’s decoding of emotional prosody in four languages

Weiyi Ma*, Peng Zhou, William Forde Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)
    10 Downloads (Pure)


    It is well established that adults can interpret emotional speech prosody independent of word meaning comprehension, even for emotional speech prosody in an unfamiliar language. However, the acquisition of this ability remains unclear. This study examined the decoding of four emotions (happy, sad, surprise, angry) conveyed with speech prosody in four languages (English, Chinese, French, Spanish) by American and Chinese children at 3 to 5 years of age—an age range when the ability to decode emotional prosody in one’s native language emerges but remains fragile. Chinese and American children could decode the emotional meaning of speech prosody in both familiar and unfamiliar languages as young as 3 years old. Performance did not differ across the four languages used—a finding observed in both American and Chinese children. Thus, the in-group advantage of emotional prosody decoding reported for adults may not be evident by 5 years of age. Furthermore, emotional prosody decoding skills improved with age.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)198-212
    Number of pages15
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


    • prosody
    • emotional perception
    • child development
    • in-group advantage


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