Different children, different prosody: Individual differences in prosodic development

Author(s): Aoju Chen


Prosody plays an important role in communication. Although sensitivity to variation in prosodic parameters is already observed in infancy, learning to use prosody appropriately is a long and gradual process. Recent years have seen a significant increase in research on prosodic development in childhood across languages. However, little attention has been paid to individual variation in prosodic development, despite that language development is characterised by individual variation in general. This may be, in part, due to methodological difficulty in quantifying and qualifying individual differences in prosodic abilities. But it also reflects the implicit assumption that children with no overt language problems learn to produce the right prosodic form(s) in the right context at a similar pace following the same developmental stages. In this talk, I will question this assumption and show that individual variation in children’s prosodic abilities can be substantial and has its own developmental course in tUtrecht University in light of findings from a three-year longitudinal study of acquisition of prosodic focus-marking in Dutch-speaking children. I will discuss individual variation from a longitudinal perspective at three levels, i.e. rate of acquisition (in production), relation between variation in prosodic abilities (in production) and variation in development in other areas (e.g. musicality and verbal intelligence), and relation between production and comprehension.

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