It is often thought that the ability to use prosodic features accurately is mastered in early childhood. However, research to date has produced conflicting evidence, notably about the development of children's ability to mark prosodic boundaries. This paper investigates (i) whether, by the age of eight, children use temporal boundary features in their speech in a systematic way, and (ii) to what extent adult listeners are able to interpret their production accurately and unambiguously. The material consists of minimal pairs of utterances: one utterance includes a compound noun, in which there is no prosodic boundary after the first noun, e.g. ‘coffee-cake and tea’, while the other utterance includes simple nouns, separated by a prosodic boundary, e.g. ‘coffee, cake and tea’. Ten eight-year-old children took part, and their productions were rated by 23 adult listeners. Two phonetic exponents of prosodic boundaries were analysed: pause duration and phrase-final lengthening. The results suggest that, at the age of 8, there is considerable variability among children in their ability to mark phrase boundaries of the kind analysed in the experiment, with some children failing to differentiate between the members of the minimal pairs reliably. The differences between the children in their use of boundary features were reflected in the adults' perceptual judgements. Both temporal cues to prosodic boundaries significantly affected the perceptual ratings, with pause being a more salient determinant of ratings than phrase-final lengthening.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.