The production-comprehension link in prosody
Prosodic development is traditionally characterised by a production-precedes-comprehension asymmetry. Children appear to produce adult-like prosody and use some of the prosodic properties communicatively at the age of two or three, but they do not yet process prosodic information in language comprehension as efficiently as adults do at the age of four or five, and fail to interpret certain uses of prosody even at the age of nine or ten.
Central to the debate on the production-comprehension asymmetry in prosodic development is the acquisition of the focus (i.e. new information in a sentence)-to-prosody mapping. It is widely believed that children under the age of six can use prosodic prominence to mark focus in production but fail to interpret or efficiently use the focus-to-prosody mapping in comprehension. A major problem in past research is that production studies were concerned with children’s ability to use prosodic prominence to encode contrast whereas comprehension studies were concerned with a range of comprehension abilities, not necessarily related to the focus-to-prosody mapping and involving syntactically complex material. This casts the claimed production-comprehension asymmetry in doubts.
To shed new light on this issue, I have investigated the development in Dutch-speaking children’s production and comprehension of the focus-to-prosody mapping and individual differences in a three-year longitudinal study.
Recently, I have started to investigate the production-comprehension link in adults’ prosodic focus marking: how do adults differ from each other in this respect and how to account for the individual differences.