The acquisition of melodic form and meaning in yes-no interrogatives by Catalan and Spanish speaking children

Jill Thorson 1 , Joan Borras-Comes 2 , Verònica Crespo-Sendra 2 , Maria del Mar Vanrell 3 ,  and Pilar Prieto 4
  • 1 Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, Brown University
  • 2 Departament de Traducció i, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Ciències del Llenguatge, Spain
  • 3 Institut für Romanische Philologie, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany
  • 4 Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA), Barcelona, Spain


This study investigates the link between interrogative intonation and meaning in child-directed speech (henceforth CDS) and how this is reflected in the early development of yes-no-interrogatives of Catalan- and Spanish-speaking children. Previous research found that children before the two-word period produce several types of interrogatives and that their productions generally reflect the adult inventory pattern (Lleó & Rakow 2011; Prieto et al. 2012). Yet prior studies have not included an analysis of the pragmatic meanings that are encoded intonationally. This investigation takes an integrated approach to the study of intonational development within the domain of yes-no questions, exploring further the correspondence between intonational form and meaning in early interrogative production and relating it to the pragmatics of interrogative intonation in child-directed speech. A set of 723 interrogative utterances produced by 3 Catalan- and 2 Spanish-acquiring children between the onset of interrogative production and 2;4 were pragmatically and then prosodically analyzed, as well as a set of 867 utterances from Catalan and Spanish CDS. The data were extracted from the Serra-Solé Catalan Corpus and the Ojea and López-Ornat Spanish Corpora in CHILDES. Production results show that all children perform some instance of questioning before the two-word period and that their productions generally reflect the adult inventory patterns. Moreover, the results show a preference relationship between the different types of nuclear pitch configurations and the pragmatic meanings that underlie the yes-no-interrogative forms. Finally, these results highlight the importance of the assessment of form-meaning relationships for the understanding of intonational development.

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Probus is a platform for the discussion of historical and synchronic research in the field of Latin and Romance linguistics, with special emphasis on phonology, morphology, syntax, language acquisition and sociolinguistics. The journal encourages problem-oriented contributions that combine the solid empirical foundations of philological and linguistic work with the insights provided by modern theoretical approaches.