Developmental changes in the weighting of prosodic cues


Address for correspondence: Amanda Seidl, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN 47907, USA; e-mail:


Previous research has shown that the weighting of, or attention to, acoustic cues at the level of the segment changes over the course of development (Nittrouer & Miller, 1997; Nittrouer, Manning & Meyer, 1993). In this paper we examined changes over the course of development in weighting of acoustic cues at the suprasegmental level. Specifically, we tested English-learning 4-month-olds’ performance on a clause segmentation task when each of three acoustic cues to clausal units was neutralized and contrasted it with performance on a Baseline condition where no cues were manipulated. Comparison with the reported performance of 6-month-olds on the same task (Seidl, 2007) reveals that 4-month-olds weight prosodic cues to clausal boundaries differently than 6-month-olds, relying more heavily on all three correlates of clausal boundaries (pause, pitch and vowel duration) than 6-month-olds do, who rely primarily on pitch. We interpret this as evidence that 4-month-olds use a holistic processing strategy, while 6-month-olds may already be able to attend separately to isolated cues in the input stream and may, furthermore, be able to exploit a language-specific cue weighting. Thus, in a way similar to that in other cognitive domains, infants begin as holistic auditory scene processors and are only later able to process individual auditory cues.