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Prosody signals the emergence of intentional communication in the first year of life: evidence from Catalan-babbling infants*



There is considerable debate about whether early vocalizations mimic the target language and whether prosody signals emergent intentional communication. A longitudinal corpus of four Catalan-babbling infants was analyzed to investigate whether children use different prosodic patterns to distinguish communicative from investigative vocalizations and to express intentionality. A total of 2,701 vocalizations from 0;7 to 0;11 were coded acoustically (by marking pitch range and duration), gesturally, and pragmatically (by marking communicative status and specific pragmatic function). The results showed that communicative vocalizations were shorter and had a wider pitch range than investigative vocalizations and that these patterns in communicative vocalizations depended on the intention of the vocalizations: requests and expressions of discontent displayed wider pitch range and longer duration than responses or statements. These results support the hypothesis that babbling children can successfully use a set of prosodic patterns to signal intentional speech.


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Address for correspondence: Universitat Pompeu Fabra – Departament de Traducció i Ciències del Llenguatge, Edifici Roc Boronat 138, Barcelona – 08018, Spain. tel: 935422409; e-mail:


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An earlier version of this article was presented at the VI Conference on Language Acquisition (Barcelona, 8–10 September 2010). We would like to thank participants at that meeting, and especially S. López-Ornat, J. Trueswell, and L. Bosch. We are grateful to the editor, the action editor and the two reviewers for their comments, which have been very helpful to us in revising the text. We also thank M. Armstrong, J. Borràs-Comes, and S. Berends for the reliability coding, M. M. Vanrell for her help with statistics, and Paolo Roseano for his help with Praat figures, all of them members of the Grup d'Estudis de Prosòdia. Finally, we thank the children and the children's parents for voluntarily taking part in this study. This research has been funded by three research grants awarded by the Spanish Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, FFI2009-07648/FILO ‘The role of tonal scaling and tonal alignment in distinguishing intonational categories in Catalan and Spanish’, by the Consolider-Ingenio 2010 (CSD2007-00012) Program, and by a grant awarded by the Generalitat de Catalunya to the Grup d'Estudis de Prosòdia (2009SGR-701).



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Prosody signals the emergence of intentional communication in the first year of life: evidence from Catalan-babbling infants*



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