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Acoustical cues and grammatical units in speech to two preverbal infants*



The current study examines the syntactic and prosodic characteristics of the maternal speech to two infants between six and ten months. Consistent with previous work, we find infant-directed speech to be characterized by generally short utterances, isolated words and phrases, and large numbers of questions, but longer utterances are also found. Prosodic information provides cues to grammatical units not only at utterance boundaries, but also at utterance-internal clause boundaries. Subject–verb phrase boundaries in questions also show reliable prosodic cues, although those of declaratives do not. Prosodic information may thus play an important role in providing preverbal infants with information about the grammatically relevant word groupings. Furthermore, questions may play an important role in infants' discovery of verb phrases in English.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Melanie Soderstrom, University of Manitoba, Department of Psychology, P404 Duff Roblin Building, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2, Canada.


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The authors wish to thank the two mothers and their families for their time and commitment to the study. This work was supported by a Kirschstein NRSA postdoctoral research fellowship 5F32HD042927 to MS and an NIH grant 1RO1HD32005 to JLM. We thank the reviewers for insightful comments on previous drafts.



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Acoustical cues and grammatical units in speech to two preverbal infants*



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