Jill Thorson (Northeastern University) will give a talk entitled "The development of intonation and information structure in early speech perception and production" on Tuesday, March 24th at 5:30 in 225 Herter Hall. An abstract follows.
Infants are born with sensitivities to their native language's melody and rhythm. This attunement to prosody affects language development over the first years of life, and impacts early attentional processing, word learning, and speech production. The motivation for the first line of research is to investigate how American English-acquiring toddlers are guided by the mapping between intonation and information structure during on-line reference resolution and novel word learning. Specifically, I ask how specific pitch movements (deaccented/H*/L+H*) systematically predict patterns of attention and subsequent novel word learning abilities depending on the referring or learning condition (new/given/contrastive). Results show that the presence of either newness or a pitch accent facilitates attention, and that toddlers learn better from more prominent learning conditions. A second line of research examines the phonological and phonetic realizations of information categories as produced by toddler and adult speakers of English. During a spontaneous speech task designed as an interactive game, a set of target nouns are labeled and analyzed as new, given, or contrastive. Results reveal that toddlers reflect adult phonological patterns for new and contrastive information, as well as demonstrate a sophisticated usage of the acoustic correlates of intonation. Together, this set of studies demonstrates how higher-level components combine to direct attention to a referent in discourse and how this process helps explain mechanisms that are important for novel word learning and early speech production.