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J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2009 Jun;52(3):790-801. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0137). Epub 2008 Oct 31.

Identifying prosodic contrasts in utterances produced by 4-, 7-, and 11-year-old children.

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Department of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, Northeastern University, 106 Forsyth Building, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Acquisition of prosodic control appears to evolve across development with younger children relying on durational cues and older children utilizing a broader spectrum of cues including fundamental frequency, intensity, and duration. This study aimed to determine whether unfamiliar listeners could identify prosodic contrasts produced by 4-, 7-, and 11-year-olds despite differences in acoustic cues used by each age group.


Thirty-six adult monolingual speakers of American English participated as listeners. A previous study yielded speech recordings from 12 children (2 male, 2 female from each age group) producing 2 linguistic contrasts, question-statement and contrastive stress, which served as listening stimuli.


In both tasks, listener accuracy ranged from 39.7% to 100% with significant differences between 4-year-olds and both older age groups. Listeners had difficulty deciphering the 4-year-olds' questions compared with statements and were more accurate in identifying contrastive stress placed on sentence-initial words compared with sentence-final words across all age groups.


Although listeners identified prosodic contrasts produced by all 3 age groups, accuracy was significantly higher for 7- and 11-year-old productions. Findings are consistent with production studies that suggest relative stabilization of prosodic control between ages 4 and 7. Parallels between prosodic and segmental acquisition are discussed.

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