InterSpeech 2021

Acquisition of prosodic focus marking by three- to six-year-old children learning Mandarin Chinese
(3 minutes introduction)

Qianyutong Zhang (NJUST, China), Kexin Lyu (NJUST, China), Zening Chen (NJUST, China), Ping Tang (NJUST, China)
Prosodic focus plays an important role during speech communication, delivering speakers’ pragmatical intention to emphasize key information, especially in contrastive scenarios. Previous studies exploring children’s acquisition of prosodic focus have generally focused on Germanic and Romance languages, while it was unclear when children learning Mandarin Chinese were able to correctly interpret the pragmatic meaning of prosodic focus and integrate it into speech comprehension. The current study explored Mandarin-learning 3–6-year-olds’ online interpretation of prosodic focus to identify contrastive referents. Twenty 3–4-year-olds, 23 5–6-year-olds, and 22 adult controls were tested. The visual-world paradigm was adopted, where participants were instructed to search for target pictures while listening to contrastive objects in discourse sequences, e.g., Find the red cat. Now, find the PURPLE/purple cat, where the second adjective was produced with or without prosodic focus. Participants’ fixation patterns were recorded via eye-trackers. The results showed that while adults and 5–6 years showed faster fixation toward target pictures in the presence of prosodic focus, this was not the case for 3–4 years. These results indicated that Mandarin-learning children at 5–6 years have acquired the pragmatic meaning of prosodic focus and utilize it to guide their identification of contrastive referents.