[PS-2.23] Does Prosody influence Thematic Role Assignment during Real-Time Spoken Language Comprehension?: A Comparison between Young Adults and Children

Kröger, J. M. 1 , Münster , K. . 2 & Knoeferle, P. 2

1 Bielefeld University
2 Humboldt University Berlin

Using eye-tracking, we examined whether young adults and 5-year-old children can rapidly recruit prosody for incremental thematic role assignment in structurally unambiguous German SVO/OVS sentences. For each sentence, prosodic contours were either SVO- or OVS-biasing respectively (see Weber et al., 2006) or sentence intonation was even. The visual stimuli contained three animal characters each. Two characters were depicted performing the same action such that the actions provided a context but did not give away the correct thematic role assignment.
The adults? results corroborated a significant effect of sentence structure but no additional effect of prosody. The children, by contrast, did not recruit case marking for incremental thematic role assignment. Instead they interpreted OVS sentences as SVO sentences (they looked more at the patient for both SVO and OVS). A more fine-grained analysis showed a marginal effect of prosody (p=0.066). Tentatively, children mistakenly exploit the marked prosody for OVS sentences to increase their bias towards a SVO interpretation.