Acoustic emphasis in four year olds

Elizabeth Wonnacott, Duane G. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Acoustic emphasis may convey a range of subtle discourse distinctions, yet little is known about how this complex ability develops in children. This paper presents a first investigation of the factors which influence the production of acoustic prominence in young children's spontaneous speech. In a production experiment, SVO sentences were elicited from 4 year olds who were asked to describe events in a video. Children were found to place more acoustic prominence both on 'new' words and on words that were 'given' but had shifted to a more accessible position within the discourse. This effect of accessibility concurs with recent studies of adult speech. We conclude that, by age four, children show appropriate, adult-like use of acoustic prominence, suggesting sensitivity to a variety of discourse distinctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1093-1101
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Accent
  • Accessibility
  • Discourse
  • Language development
  • Language production
  • Prosody

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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