Lexical and Prosodic Pitch Modifications in Cantonese Infant-directed Speech
Wong, Patrick C.M.
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WANG, L., KALASHNIKOVA, M., KAGER, R., LAI, R., & WONG, P. (2021). Lexical and Prosodic Pitch Modifications in Cantonese Infant-directed Speech. Journal of Child Language, 48(6), 1235-1261. doi:10.1017/S0305000920000707
The functions of acoustic-phonetic modifications in infant-directed speech (IDS) remain a question: do they specifically serve to facilitate language learning via enhanced phonemic contrasts (the hyperarticulation hypothesis) or primarily to improve communication via prosodic exaggeration (the prosodic hypothesis)? The study of lexical tones provides a unique opportunity to shed light on this, as lexical tones are phonemically contrastive, yet their primary cue, pitch, is also a prosodic cue. This study investigated Cantonese IDS and found increased intra-talker variation of lexical tones, which more likely posed a challenge to rather than facilitated phonetic learning. Although tonal space was expanded which could facilitate phonetic learning, its expansion was a function of overall intonational modifications. Similar findings were observed in speech to pets who should not benefit from larger phonemic distinction. We conclude that lexicaltone adjustments in IDS mainly serve to broadly enhance communication rather than specifically increase phonemic contrast for learners.