Iris Hübscher, Laura Wagner, Pilar Prieto
December 17, 2019
Despite the evidence that infants are sensitive to facial cues and prosody for the detection of emotion, we have contradictory evidence regarding the use of these cues by older preschool and school children when inferring both emotional and politeness stance. This study assessed preschool aged children’s sensitivity to intonational and facial cues signalling a speaker’s polite stance in requestive speech acts with controlled lexical and contextual materials. Thirty-six 3-year-old American English-speaking children performed a forced-choice decision task which investigated whether children at this age use pitch and/or facial cues to infer a speaker’s affective stance in either audio-only, visual-only or audio-visual presentation modalities, when lexical cues are controlled for. Results showed that (a) children at three years can infer a speaker’s polite stance equally well in all three conditions (audio-only, visual-only and audio-visual) and thereby (b) unlike previous research, in the present task both intonation and facial cues are equally strong cues in children’s understanding of a speaker’s polite stance in requestive speech acts. The authors discuss especially the implications of this early use of intonation to detect politeness, relating it to other previous research on children’s ability to infer meaning from pitch.