Advertisement

Understanding Prosodic Focus Marking in Mandarin Chinese: Data from Children and Adults

  • Hui-Ching Chen
  • Krista Szendrői
  • Stephen Crain
  • Barbara Höhle
Article

Abstract

This study investigated whether Mandarin speakers interpret prosodic information as focus markers in a sentence-picture verification task. Previous production studies have shown that both Mandarin-speaking adults and Mandarin-speaking children mark focus by prosodic information (Ouyang and Kaiser in Lang Cogn Neurosc 30(1–2):57–72, 2014; Yang and Chen in Prosodic focus marking in Chinese four-and eight-year-olds, 2014). However, while prosodic focus marking did not seem to affect sentence comprehension in adults Mandarin-speaking children showed enhanced sentence comprehension when the sentence focus was marked by prosodic information in a previous study (Chen in Appl Psycholinguist 19(4):553–582, 1998). The present study revisited this difference between Mandarin speaking adults and children by applying a newly designed task that tested the use of prosodic information to identify the sentence focus. No evidence was obtained that Mandarin-speaking children (as young as 3 years of age) adhered more strongly to prosodic information than adults but that word order was the strongest cue for their focus interpretation. Our findings support the view that children attune to the specific means of information structure marking in their ambient language at an early age.

Keywords

Focus Prosody Language acquisition Mandarin Chinese Information structure 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the German Exchange Academic Service (DAAD) for Chen, the DFG SFB632, and the support of the ESF EURO-EXPRAG Research Network Program for Höhle and Szendrői. Additionally, this work was also supported by the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctoral Programme of the European Union (IDEALAB), 2014-0685/001-001-EMJD (Framework Partnership Agreement 2012–2015). We also acknowledge the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders and as well as the Babylab in Potsdam. Finally, we would like to thank all the participants, parents and the teachers involved in the study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.

References

  1. Baayen, R. H., Davidson, D. J., & Bates, D. M. (2008). Mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language, 59(4), 390–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S. (2014). lme4: Linear mixed-effects models using Eigen and S4. R Package Version, 1(7), 1–23.Google Scholar
  3. Berger, F., & Höhle, B. (2012). Restrictions on addition: children’s interpretation of the focus particles auch ‘also’and nur ‘only’in German. Journal of Child Language, 39(2), 383–410.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Chen, S. H. E. (1998). Surface cues and the development of given/new interpretation. Applied Psycholinguistics, 19(4), 553–582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chen, Y., & Braun, B. (2006). Prosodic realization of information structure categories in standard Chinese. Paper presented at the Speech Prosody 2006.Google Scholar
  6. Chen, Y., & Gussenhoven, C. (2008). Emphasis and tonal implementation in Standard Chinese. Journal of Phonetics, 36(4), 724–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Feldhausen, I., & Vanrell, M. (2014). Prosody, focus and word order in Catalan and Spanish. An Optimality Theoretic approach. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 10th international seminar on speech production.Google Scholar
  8. Feng, S. (2003). Prosodically constrained postverbal PPs in Mandarin Chinese. Linguistics, 41(6; ISSU 388), 1085–1122.Google Scholar
  9. Féry, C., & Krifka, M. (2008). Information structure. Notional distinctions, ways of expression. In P. van Sterkenburg (Ed.), Unity and diversity of languages (pp. 123–136). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Frascarelli, M. (2000). The syntax-phonology interface in focus and topic constructions in Italian (Vol. 50). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  11. Hamlaoui, F. (2008). Focus, contrast and the syntax-phonology interface: The case of French cleft sentences. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 18th international congress of linguists.Google Scholar
  12. Höhle, B., Berger, F., & Sauermann, A. (2016). Information structure in first language acquisition. In The oxford handbook of information structure (pp. 562–580). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hornby, P. A. (1971). Surface structure and the topic-comment distinction: A developmental study. Child Development, 42, 1975–1988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lambrecht, K. (1994). Information structure and sentence form: Topic, focus, and the mental representations of discourse referents (Vol. 71). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Li, C., & Thompson, S. A. (1981). Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  16. Ouyang, I. C., & Kaiser, E. (2014). Prosody and information structure in a tone language: An investigation of Mandarin Chinese. Language Cognition and Neuroscience, 30(1–2), 57–72.Google Scholar
  17. Papafragou, A., & Musolino, J. (2003). Scalar implicatures: Experiments at the semantics–pragmatics interface. Cognition, 86(3), 253–282.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. R Development Core Team. (2016). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.Google Scholar
  19. Reinhart, T. (2004). The processing cost of reference set computation: Acquisition of stress shift and focus. Language Acquisition, 12(2), 109–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Repp, S., & Drenhaus, H. (2014). Intonation influences processing and recall of left-dislocation sentences by indicating topic vs. focus status of dislocated referent. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 30(3), 324–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rooth, M. (1992). A theory of focus interpretation. Natural Language Semantics, 1(1), 75–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Shih, C. (1988). Tone and intonation in Mandarin. In Working papers of the Cornell phonetics laboratory (Vol. 3, pp. 83–109).Google Scholar
  23. Shyu, S. I. (2012). Topic and focus. In C. T. J. Huang, Y. H. A. Li, & A. Simpson (Eds.), The handbook of Chinese linguistics (pp. 100–125). Chichester, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  24. Szendrői, K., Bernard, C., Berger, F., Gervain, J., & Höhle, B. (2017). Acquisition of prosodic focus marking by English, French, and German three-, four-, five-and six-year-olds. Journal of Child Language, 45, 1–23.Google Scholar
  25. Wells, B., Peppé, S., & Goulandris, N. (2004). Intonation development from five to thirteen. Journal of Child Language, 31(4), 749–778.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Xu, L. J. (2004). Manifestation of informational focus. Lingua, 114(3), 277–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Xu, Y. (1999). Effects of tone and focus on the formation and alignment of F0 contours. Journal of Phonetics, 27(1), 55–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Yang, A., & Chen, A. (2014). Prosodic focus marking in Chinese four-and eight-year-olds. Paper presented at the Speech Prosody.Google Scholar
  29. Zhou, P., Su, Y., Crain, S., Gao, L. Q., & Zhan, L. K. (2012). Children’s use of phonological information in ambiguity resolution: a view from Mandarin Chinese. Journal of Child Language, 39(4), 687–730.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Zubizarreta, M. L. (1998). Prosody, focus, and word order. London: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Doctorate for Experimental Approaches to Language and Brain (IDEALAB)University of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.University of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.University of TrentoTrentoItaly
  4. 4.University of NewcastleNewcastle upon TyneUK
  5. 5.Macquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  6. 6.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  7. 7.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and Its DisordersMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  8. 8.Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Research Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Brain SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  9. 9.Department of LinguisticsMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations