[PS-3.38] How contrastive accent is or isn?t integrated with sentential context in children and adults

Ito, K. .

Ohio State University

An eye-tracking study tested how sentential context constrains the function of contrastive accent in school-age children and adults. Target noun with or without a contrastive accent was presented with a semantically biasing or un-biasing verb (Ellen was [boarding the/looking at a] BOAT/boat.), together with a slide including Primary Semantic Alternative (SA1: plane), Secondary Semantic Alternative (SA2: taxi), Rhyme competitor (coat) and Distractor (chair). In all age groups, biasing verbs led to a quick increase in looks to SA1 around the critical noun onset, demonstrating that the integration of verb semantics is already swift by age 6. 8&9-year (n=50), 10&11-year (n=42) and 12&13-year (n=22) olds showed earlier separation between SA1 and SA2 with a biasing verb and an accented noun. 8&9-yr olds and 6&7-yr olds (n=32) did not show a clear separation between SA1 and SA2, especially after unbiasing verbs. 6&7-yr olds and adults (n=50) showed no effect of accent, yet presumably for different reasons: while young children cannot use contrastive accent due to their underdeveloped alternative representations, adults pay little attention to prosody when verb semantics guides sentential interpretation. In sum, accentuation facilitates semantic computation while alternative representations develop gradually during childhood, until verb semantics dominates sentential interpretation.