children playing with blocks

Project: Learning to focus – How Stockholm and Skåne Swedish children produce and comprehend contrastive intonation

Speakers make use of speech melody or intonation in order to highlight the most important part of an utterance – the information in focus - and listeners rely on this focus intonation (or contrastive sentence stress) in order to comprehend the message. In this project we study how Swedish kindergarten children develop the skill to produce and to interpret focus intonation, be means of, among others, eye-tracking experiments.

About the project

  • Project manager: Gilbert Ambrazaitis, Linnaeus University
  • Project members:  Nadja Althaus, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK; Anna Sara H. Romøren, Oslo Metropolitan University; Susan Sayehli, Stockholm University.
  • Participating organisations: Linnaeus University; Stockholm University; Oslo Metropolitan University; University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
  • Financier: Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences)
  • Timetable: July 1, 2018–December 31, 2021
  • Subject: Linguistics (Department of Swedish, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)

More about the project

People use prosody – the melody and rhythm of speech – in order to highlight the most important part of an utterance (its focus), and listeners rely on prosody in order to process and comprehend the message. Prosodic focusing takes different forms in different languages or dialects, and this project investigates effects of such differences on children’s development toward adult mastery of focus prosody.

Comparing Stockholm and Skåne Swedish makes a particularly good test case because the two varieties differ in prosodic typology with respect to the focus tone, while keeping other important linguistic features constant.

We will elicit and analyze speech recordings from three and five year-old children (and adult controls) speaking Stockholm or Skåne Swedish, and test the same children’s (and adults’) comprehension of focus prosody in their respective variety, using the visual world eye tracking paradigm.

In this project we center on the relation between how a child produces focus prosody, and how it can make use of it in speech comprehension. Is one of these skills acquired before the other? And is the acquisition of these skills in some way influenced by the melodic shape of the focus prosody in a particular language variety? The project will add central missing pieces to our general understanding of how properties of the input affect native language acquisition. Particularly phonological properties have so far received only limited attention in this ongoing discussion.