Acoustical cues and grammatical units in speech to two preverbal infants

J Child Lang. 2008 Nov;35(4):869-902. doi: 10.1017/S0305000908008763.

Abstract

The current study examines the syntactic and prosodic characteristics of the maternal speech to two infants between six and ten months. Consistent with previous work, we find infant-directed speech to be characterized by generally short utterances, isolated words and phrases, and large numbers of questions, but longer utterances are also found. Prosodic information provides cues to grammatical units not only at utterance boundaries, but also at utterance-internal clause boundaries. Subject-verb phrase boundaries in questions also show reliable prosodic cues, although those of declaratives do not. Prosodic information may thus play an important role in providing preverbal infants with information about the grammatically relevant word groupings. Furthermore, questions may play an important role in infants' discovery of verb phrases in English.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child Language*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Sibling Relations
  • Speech Acoustics*
  • Speech Perception
  • Verbal Behavior
  • Verbal Learning*