Children's imitations of intonation contours: are rising tones more difficult than falling tones?

D Snow
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research: JSLHR 1998, 41 (3): 576-87
Perceptual evidence suggests that young children do not imitate adult-modeled intonation patterns with a rising pitch contour (rising tones) as well as those with a falling pitch contour (falling tones). To investigate the acoustic basis of this uneven imitation pattern, 10 4-year-old children were asked to imitate short sentences with falling and rising tones in 4 sentence contexts called "intonation groups." The results indicated that the children used more falling tones than adults in most intonation groups. When the children matched the adult-modeled contour direction (falling or rising), the children's speed of pitch change was comparable to that of adults in the falling tones of final intonation groups and in the rising tones of nonfinal groups, but was slower than that of adults in the complementary environments. In a manner consistent with previously reported perceptual data, the instrumental findings indicate that rising tones may be more difficult for 4-year-old children to produce than falling tones. The results additionally suggest that children's intonation is sensitive not only to the direction of tonal contours but also to their position in sentence-final versus nonfinal intonation groups.

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