Friday, June 11 at 1:00 p.m.
"Fishbowl" seminar room, IRCS, 3401 Walnut St
Title: Children's Sensitivity to Pitch Variation in Language
Children acquire consonant and vowel categories by 12 months, but appear to take much longer to learn to interpret perceptible acoustic variation. Here, we consider children's interpretation of pitch variation. Pitch operates, often simultaneously, at different levels of linguistic structure, to indicate categories like phrase boundaries, stressed syllables, speakers' emotions, and yes/no questions. English-learning children must disregard pitch at the lexical level—since English is not a tone language—while still attending to pitch for its other functions. Study 1 shows that 2.5-year-old English learners know pitch cannot differentiate words in English. Study 2 finds that not until age 4–5 do children correctly interpret pitch cues to emotions. Study 3 demonstrates some sensitivity between 2.5–5 years to the pitch cue to lexical stress, but continuing difficulties at age 5. These findings suggest a late trajectory for interpretation of prosodic variation; we suggest potential explanations for this protracted time-course.