Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 September 2015
Young children are slow to master conventional intonation patterns in their yes/no questions, which may stem from imperfect understanding of the links between terminal pitch contours and pragmatic intentions. In Experiment 1, five- to ten-year-old children and adults were required to judge utterances as questions or statements on the basis of intonation alone. Children eight years of age or younger performed above chance levels but less accurately than adult listeners. To ascertain whether the verbal content of utterances interfered with young children's attention to the relevant acoustic cues, low-pass filtered versions of the same utterances were presented to children and adults in Experiment 2. Low-pass filtering reduced performance comparably for all age groups, perhaps because such filtering reduced the salience of critical pitch cues. Young children's difficulty in differentiating declarative questions from statements is not attributable to basic perceptual difficulties but rather to absent or unstable intonation categories.