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Production and perception of listener-oriented clear speech in child language*



In this paper, we ask whether children are sensitive to the needs of their interlocutor, and, if so, whether they – like adults – modify acoustic characteristics of their speech as part of a communicative goal. In a production task, preschoolers participated in a word learning task that favored the use of clear speech. Children produced vowels that were longer, more intense, more dispersed in the vowel space, and had a more expanded F0 range than normal speech. Two perception studies with adults showed that these acoustic differences were perceptible and were used to distinguish normal and clear speech styles. We conclude that preschoolers are sensitive to aspects of the speaker–hearer relationship calling upon them to modify their speech in ways that benefit their listener.


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Address for correspondence: Kristen Syrett, Department of Linguistics and Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey – New Brunswick, 18 Seminary Place, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. e-mail:


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This work was made possible from funding provided by NIH grant HD-057699 to K.S., a postdoctoral fellowship from the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science to K.S., and Rutgers startup grants to K.S. and S. K. We received invaluable research assistance from Lara Greenberg, Melanie Kelliher, Sarah Korostoff, Michelle Marron, and Georgia Simon, and are grateful for participation from the children and staff at Pennington Presbyterian Nursery School, Pine Grove Cooperative Nursery School, and the Douglass Psychology Child Study Center. Finally, this work benefited from comments from two anonymous reviewers, discussions with the audiences at RUMMIT 2010, LSA 2011, the Rutgers Psycholinguistics and Phonetics lab groups, and suggestions on data analysis from Mafuyu Kitahara, Mary Beckman, Britta Lintfert, and Jalal-eddin Al-Tamimi.



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