Research Sketch: Arnhold, Chen, & Järvikivi (2016)

Acquiring Complex Focus-Marking: Finnish 4- to 5-Year-Olds Use Prosody and Word Order in Interaction

 CORRESPONDING AUTHOR

 Anja Arnhold

 University of Alberta

 arnhold@ualberta.ca

 KEYWORDS

 Finnish, Acquisition of prosody, Word order, Information structure, Language production, Focus, Child language

 APA CITATION

 Arnhold, A., Chen, A., & Järvikivi, J. (2016). Acquiring Complex Focus-Marking: Finnish 4-to 5-Year-Olds Use Prosody and Word Order in Interaction. Frontiers in psychology, 7.

 ARTICLE URL

 https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01886

HIGHLIGHTS

  • A language game to elicit short utterances in varying word orders from Finnish 4- to 5-year-olds showed a characteristic interaction between prosody and word order in marking information structure.
  • Children rarely adjusted input word order, but systematically avoided marked OVS order in contrastive object focus condition.
  • Focus condition significantly affected four prosodic parameters, f0, duration, pauses and voice quality.
  • Crucially, these effects were modulated by word order, reflecting the more central role of word order and of interactions between word order and prosody in marking information structure in Finnish, compared to Germanic languages.

ABSTRACT

Using a language game to elicit short sentences in various information structural conditions, we found that Finnish 4- to 5-year-olds already exhibit a characteristic interaction between prosody and word order in marking information structure. Providing insights into the acquisition of this complex system of interactions, the production data showed interesting parallels to adult speakers of Finnish on the one hand and to children acquiring other languages on the other hand. Analyzing a total of 571 sentences produced by 16 children, we found that children rarely adjusted input word order, but did systematically avoid marked OVS order in contrastive object focus condition. Focus condition also significantly affected four prosodic parameters, f0, duration, pauses and voice quality. Differing slightly from effects displayed in adult Finnish speech, the children produced larger f0 ranges for words in contrastive focus and smaller ones for unfocused words, varied only the duration of object constituents to be longer in focus and shorter in unfocused condition, inserted more pauses before and after focused constituents and systematically modified their use of non-modal voice quality only in utterances with narrow focus. Crucially, these effects were modulated by word order. In contrast to comparable data from children acquiring Germanic languages, the present findings reflect the more central role of word order and of interactions between word order and prosody in marking information structure in Finnish. Thus, the study highlights the role of the target language in determining linguistic development.

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