Understanding prosodic focus marking in Mandarin Chinese

data from children and adults

Hui Ching Chen*, Krista Szendrői, Stephen Crain, Barbara Höhle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


This study investigated whether Mandarin speakers interpret prosodic information as focus markers in a sentence-picture verification task. Previous production studies have shown that both Mandarin-speaking adults and Mandarin-speaking children mark focus by prosodic information (Ouyang and Kaiser in Lang Cogn Neurosc 30(1–2):57–72, 2014; Yang and Chen in Prosodic focus marking in Chinese four-and eight-year-olds, 2014). However, while prosodic focus marking did not seem to affect sentence comprehension in adults Mandarin-speaking children showed enhanced sentence comprehension when the sentence focus was marked by prosodic information in a previous study (Chen in Appl Psycholinguist 19(4):553–582, 1998). The present study revisited this difference between Mandarin speaking adults and children by applying a newly designed task that tested the use of prosodic information to identify the sentence focus. No evidence was obtained that Mandarin-speaking children (as young as 3 years of age) adhered more strongly to prosodic information than adults but that word order was the strongest cue for their focus interpretation. Our findings support the view that children attune to the specific means of information structure marking in their ambient language at an early age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19–32
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number1
Early online date12 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • focus
  • prosody
  • language acquisition
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • information structure

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