Four- to five-year-olds’ use of word order and prosody in focus marking in Dutch

Aoju Chen 1  and Barbara Höhle 2
  • 1 Utrecht University, Utrecht Institute of Linguistics, Trans 10, Utrecht 3512 JK, Netherlands
  • 2 Universität Potsdam, Linguistics Department, Karl-Liebknechtstr. 24-25, Potsdam 14467, Brandenburg, Germany
Aoju Chen
  • Corresponding author
  • Utrecht University, Utrecht Institute of Linguistics, Trans 10, Utrecht 3512 JK, Netherlands
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and Barbara Höhle
  • Universität Potsdam, Linguistics Department, Karl-Liebknechtstr. 24-25, Potsdam 14467, Brandenburg, Germany
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Abstract

This study investigated Dutch-speaking four- to five-year-olds’ use of word order and prosody in distinguishing focus types (broad focus, narrow focus, and contrastive narrow focus) via an interactive answer-reconstruction game. We have found an overall preference for the unmarked word order SVO and no evidence for the use of OVS to distinguish focus types. But the children used pitch and duration in the subject-nouns to distinguish focus types in SVO sentences. These findings show that Dutch-speaking four- to five-year-olds differ from their German- and Finnish-speaking peers, who show evidence of varying choice of word order to mark specific focus types, and use prosody to distinguish focus types in subject and object nouns in both SVO and OVS sentences. These comparisons suggest that typological differences in the relative importance between word order and prosody can lead to differences in children’s use of word order and prosody in unmarked and marked word orders. A more equal role of word order and prosody in the ambient language can stimulate more extensive use of prosody in the marked word order, whereas a more limited role of word order can restrict the use of prosody in the unmarked word order.

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