Aoju Chen

Acquisition of prosodic focus marking: cross-linguistic comparisons and individual differences

I lead the five-year research programme (2011-2016) “Get the focus right: a cross-linguistic study on prosodic encoding of focus in children” (€800,000, NWO-276-89-001). My team and I investigate how children aged 4 to 10 acquire prosodic encoding of focus (i.e. new information in a sentence) in languages differing in both prosodic realisation of focus and lexical specifications of prosody, i.e. Korean, Swedish, Dutch and Mandarin Chinese. Specifically, we are interested in three questions:

  1. How does the employment of a prosodic parameter for lexical purposes affect the acquisition of the use of the same parameter in marking focus?
  2. How does the relation between the focus-marking pitch gesture and the focused word affect the acquisition of the focus-marking pitch gesture?
  3. How do children acquire the prosodic adjustment in the post-focus sequence?
  4. How do children acquiring the same L1s (i.e. Dutch and Mandarin Chinese) differ from each other in the acquisition of prosodic focus-marking and what cognitive and linguistic factors can explain individual differences in this aspect of language development?

My PhD students’ work focuses on the first three questions; my own work focuses on the fourth question. Our goal is to develop a comprehensive theory of acquisition of prosodic encoding of focus with an emphasis on language-specificity and individual differences.

Project homepage: http://focus.wp.hum.uu.nl/

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