How German children use intonation to signal information status in narrative discourse

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Recent research on adult German suggests that speakers use particular pitch accent types to signal the information status of discourse referents. This study investigates to what extent German five- and seven-year-olds have acquired this mapping. Semi-natural speech data was obtained from a picture-elicited narration task in which the information status was systematically varied. Surprisingly, data from an adult control group were inconsistent with the claim of a clear status-accent mapping, and demonstrated that adult scripted speech cannot be taken as a target model. However, compared with adults' unscripted speech productions, children were indeed adult-like in their information status marking. Both child groups accented new referents, but tended to deaccent given referents. Accessible referents (whose first mentions were less recent) were mostly realized like new referents. Differences between adults and children emerged in the use of intonation to structure narrations, suggesting that some functions of intonation may be acquired only later.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1051-1061
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014