Young children's sensitivity to polite stance expressed through audiovisual prosody in requests

Author(s): Iris Hübscher, Laura Wagner and Pilar Prieto


While children’s acquisition of lexically encoded politeness formulas has been investigated extensively, little is known about their sensitiveness to prosodic and gestural cues to politeness. The goal of this paper is to test the ability of 3-year-old American English-speaking children to recognize a speaker’s polite stance in their native language based on prosodic and facial gestural politeness cues. A total of 72 3-year olds were presented with videos of twins performing child-directed polite and less-polite requests which did not contain any explicit lexical markers of politeness in Experiment 1 and the additional please in Experiment 2. The children were either presented with Audio Only (AO), Visual Only (VO) and Audio Visual (AV) modalities within each experiment. Children were asked to place the requested object in the basket in front of the twin that asked more nicely. Analysis of the results suggests that age three seems to be a crucial age for children to learn to access a speaker’s polite stance both through prosody and facial gestural cues. Interestingly, the presence of please in Experiment 2 helps children to understand the task better.


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