Children's use of phonological information in ambiguity resolution

A view from Mandarin Chinese

Peng Zhou*, Yi Su, Stephen Crain, Liqun Gao, Likan Zhan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Citations (Scopus)


How do children develop the mapping between prosody and other levels of linguistic knowledge? This question has received considerable attention in child language research. In the present study two experiments were conducted to investigate four- to five-year-old Mandarin-speaking children's sensitivity to prosody in ambiguity resolution. Experiment 1 used eye-tracking to assess children's use of stress in resolving structural ambiguities. Experiment 2 took advantage of special properties of Mandarin to investigate whether children can use intonational cues to resolve ambiguities involving speech acts. The results of our experiments show that children's use of prosodic information in ambiguity resolution varies depending on the type of ambiguity involved. Children can use prosodic information more effectively to resolve speech act ambiguities than to resolve structural ambiguities. This finding suggests that the mapping between prosody and semantics/pragmatics in young children is better established than the mapping between prosody and syntax.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-730
Number of pages44
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012

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