On 6 November, Anqi Yang (Linguistic theory and language acquisition) will defend her PhD thesis in which she investigates how Mandarin Chinese-speaking and Seoul Korean-speaking children learn to mark new information in a sentence.
A sentence consists of new and old information. The new information is known as 'focus'. Marking the focus in our speech prosodically (through rhythm, intonation and emphasis) helps our listener to process and understand our message. Focus-marking is thus useful for understanding speech and an important ability for children to acquire. This dissertation is a cross-linguistic study on how Mandarin Chinese-speaking and Seoul Korean-speaking children acquire the use of prosody in focus-marking in speech production.
Yang collected and analysed semi-spontaneous production of sentences from four- to eleven-year-old children and adults in both languages. She found that which prosodic focus-marking means is acquired first in a language depends on what is the primary prosodic focus-marking means in the language. Furthermore, whether a prosodic property is used for lexical purposes in a language influences how early the prosodic property is acquired as a cue to focus in the language. Her findings thus show that cross-linguistic differences in the prosodic system and prosodic focus-marking lead to differences in the route and rate of acquisition of prosodic focus-marking.