Understanding Prosodic Focus Marking in Mandarin Chinese: Data from Children and Adults

Hui-Ching Chen*, Krista Szendroi, Stephen Crain, Barbara Hoehle

*Corresponding author for this work

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    1 Citation (Scopus)

    Abstract

    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 3years 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
    Volume48
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Feb-2019

    Keywords

    • Focus
    • Prosody
    • Language acquisition
    • Mandarin Chinese
    • Information structure

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