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Auteur: Barbara HÖHLE

Early prosodic development and later language performance: Results from a longitudinal study from infancy to preschool age

Abstract/Résumé: According to the prosodic bootstrapping approach prosodic information present in children’s linguistic input supports the acquisition of lexically and syntactically relevant features of the native language. Previous research generated a large body of evidence for this assumption – showing that infants are highly sensitive to prosodic information from birth on (e.g. Nazzi et al., 2003) and attune to specific prosodic characteristics of the ambient language very fast (e.g. Höhle et al., 2009). In this talk, data from a longitudinal study that followed a cohort of 30 German children from birth to preschool age will be presented. At 4-months of age, infants were tested for their ability to discriminate iambic from trochaic stress patterns using the head turn preference paradigm. The language and cognitive development of the same children was tracked by the use of different standardized assessments up to an age of 5 years. Retrospective and prospective data analyses based on the results from the experiment when the children were 4 months old and the later language and cognitive measures were accomplished. A retrospective comparison of group results showed that children with later low language performance did not show any evidence for discriminating the stress patterns at the age of 4 months while the early data from children with higher language performance revealed a significant listening preference for the trochaic stress pattern. Furthermore, infants’ responses to the stress patterns were more strongly related to later language performance - in particular to their sentence comprehension scores - than to nonverbal cognitive measures. These results provide evidence that inter-individual variation in the performance with language related tasks can already be detected in the first months of life. It will be discussed whether the relation observed between the early processing of prosodic information and the later language performance is specific for prosody or arises from more general mechanisms of information processing.