The long term research agenda is to model the structures and strategies that underlie prosodic acquisition in the context of a developing system in order to speech/language acquisition in typically developing children as well as in children with language disorders. The proposed study lays the foundation for the long term research by characterizing a full range of prosodic patterns in typically-developing 5 to 11 year old English-speaking children's speech, with an emphasis on temporal patterns.
The specific aims of the research are: (a) to identify the rate at which different patterns are acquired in elementary school age children, whose language is functional and complex but still immature;(b) to test for interactions between timing, intonation, phrase position, and syntax in children's production of prosody;and (c) to test the effects of different nonlanguage and language abilities on the acquisition of particular prosodic patterns. The working hypothesis is that children's rhythmic speech is increasingly modulated over time to highlight conceptual and structural aspects of the message for listeners, which is a major function of adult prosody. The study will include 180 children, recruited from the population of kindergarten through 5th grade children attending local elementary schools. A subset of the K-2nd grade children will be tracked longitudinally for 3 years as part of the same study. A single protocol will be used to collect all of the cross-sectional and longitudinal data. The protocol will include several language and nonlanguage assessment tasks, several experimental language tasks, and a structured spontaneous speech task. Adult speech will be collected to compare temporal patterns in child speech to adult target patterns. All raw speech, language, and nonlanguage data will be hand coded, transcribed, and acoustically measured. The cross-sectional design will be used to determine the ages at which typically developing native English-speaking children produce a variety of temporal patterns in an adult-like fashion, to test for interactions between the linguistic factors and the production of temporal patterns in child speech, and to predict aspects of prosodic acquisition using nonlanguage and language assessment scores. A longitudinal design will be used to identify individual developmental trajectories as a check against the trajectory suggested by the cross-sectional data, and to investigate the acquisition of multiple prosodic patterns in parallel and in the context of developing linguistic and nonlinguistic abilities. The research will provide cross-sectional and longitudinal data on the acquisition of suprasegmental temporal patterns, further our understanding of nonlanguage influences on speech acquisition, and help shape our conception of how language and nonlanguage subsystems interact during the developmental process. From this foundation, we will build a developmental model of language production in order to understand the acquisition of speech timing control in children.
Children with many different types of developmental disorders exhibit deficits in speech prosody;that is, in producing temporal and intonational patterns that create language rhythm, highlight semantic content, mark different types of grammatical boundaries, direct turn-taking, and convey emotion. Studying how typically developing children acquire prosody will inform both our understanding of developmental language disorders and their clinical assessment and treatment by providing researchers and clinicians with developmental time- lines, age appropriate models of speech planning and execution, and information about the kinds of abilities that influence prosodic acquisition. 1
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