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Intonation development from five to thirteen



Research undertaken to date suggests that important developments in the understanding and use of intonation may take place after the age of 5;0. The present study aims to provide a more comprehensive account of these developments. A specially designed battery of prosodic tasks was administered to four groups of thirty children, from London (U.K.), with mean ages of 5;6, 8;7, 10;10 and 13;9. The tasks tap comprehension and production of functional aspects of intonation, in four communicative areas: CHUNKING (i.e. prosodic phrasing), AFFECT, INTERACTION and FOCUS. Results indicate that there is considerable variability among children within each age band on most tasks. The ability to produce intonation functionally is largely established in five-year-olds, though some specific functional contrasts are not mastered until C.A. 8;7. Aspects of intonation comprehension continue to develop up to C.A. 10;10, correlating with measures of expressive and receptive language development.


Corresponding author

Professor Bill Wells, Department of Human Communication Sciences, University of Sheffield, 31 Claremont Crescent, Sheffield S10 2TA, UK. tel: 44 (0)114 2222429; fax: 44 (0)114 2730547; e-mail:


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This research was supported by award R000236696 from the Economic and Social Research Council (U.K.), to Bill Wells and Sue Peppé, both then at the Department of Human Communication Science, University College London. Preparation of this article was supported by an ESRC Research Fellowship to the first author (R000271063). We are grateful to the children who participated in this research, to the teachers and parents who facilitated their participation; to Jana Dankovičová for advice on prosodic hierarchies; and especially to Harriet Lang for assistance with recording and data collection.



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