Anne M. Mannering
Branden M. Kornell
William F. Katz
Dept. of Commun. Disord., Univ. of Texas at Dallas, Callier Center, 1966 Inwood Rd., Dallas, TX 75235
3408 Custer St., Cincinnati, OH 45208
Although recent evidence suggests that young children use prosodic information to ``bootstrap'' themselves into syntactic comprehension, little is known about how children use prosody to signal syntactic boundaries in their spoken utterances. A speech elicitation task examined the extent to which children and adults control duration and intonation to mark phrase boundaries in spontaneous speech. Adults and young children (ages 5 and 7) were asked to describe groupings of colored blocks in a manner such that a blindfolded listener could tell ``which blocks go together.'' This procedure elicited utterances corresponding to three syntactic bracketings of the phrase ``pink and green and white.'' Acoustic analysis of subjects' productions indicated that adults reliably controlled duration (i.e., syllable lengthening, pauses) and intonation fall--rise patterns to signal phrase boundaries. In contrast, children's productions were highly variable and showed no evidence of intonation cues being involved. Individual subject analyses suggested that some of the 7-year-old children used duration cue to signal phrase boundaries, although the contrasts were not as marked as in the adult data. The results were interpreted as showing that by age 7, most children have not yet mastered prosodic cues for phrasal boundaries in their speech production.