How each prosodic boundary cue matters: evidence from German infants

Caroline Wellmann*, Julia Holzgrefe, Hubert Truckenbrodt, Isabell Wartenburger, Barbara Höhle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies have revealed that infants aged 6-10 months are able to use the acoustic correlates of major prosodic boundaries, that is, pitch change, preboundary lengthening, and pause, for the segmentation of the continuous speech signal. Moreover, investiga- tions with American-English- and Dutch-learning infants suggest that processing prosodic boundary markings involves a weighting of these cues. This weighting seems to develop with increasing exposure to the native language and to underlie crosslinguistic variation. In the following, we report the results of four experiments using the headturn preference procedure to explore the perception of prosodic boundary cues in German infants. We presented 8-month-old infants with a sequence of names in two different prosodic group- ings, with or without boundary markers. Infants discriminated both sequences when the boundary was marked by all three cues (Experiment 1) and when it was marked by a pitch change and preboundary lengthening in combination (Experiment 2). The presence of a pitch change (Experiment 3) or preboundary lengthening (Experiment 4) as single cues did not lead to a successful discrimination. Our results indicate that pause is not a necessary cue for German infants. Pitch change and preboundary lengthening in combination, but not as single cues, are sufficient. Hence, by 8 months infants only rely on a convergence of boundary markers. Comparisons with adults' performance on the same stimulus mate- rials suggest that the pattern observed with the 8-month-olds is already consistent with that of adults. We discuss our findings with respect to crosslinguistic variation and the development of a language-specific prosodic cue weighting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number580
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cue weighting
  • Headturn preference procedure
  • Infants
  • Intonation phrase boundary
  • Language acquisition
  • Prosodic bootstrapping
  • Prosodic boundary cues
  • Speech perception


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