Original Article

Are prosodic effects on sentence comprehension dependent on age?

Talita Fortunato-Tavares; Richard G. Schwartz; Claudia Regina Furquim de Andrade; Derek Houston; Klara Marton

Downloads: 0
Views: 46




to investigate prosodic boundary effects on the comprehension of attachment ambiguities in Brazilian Portuguese and to test two hypotheses relying on the notion of boundary strength: the absolute boundary hypothesis (ABH) and the relative boundary hypothesis (RBH). Manipulations of prosodic structure influence how listeners interpret syntactically ambiguous sentences. However, the role of prosody in spoken language comprehension of sentences has received limited attention in languages other than English, particularly from a developmental perspective.


Twenty-three adults and 15 children participated in a computerized sentence comprehension task involving syntactically ambiguous sentences. Each sentence was recorded in eight different prosodic forms with acoustic manipulations of F0, duration and pause varying the boundary size to reflect predictions of the ABH and RBH.


Children and adults differed in how prosody influenced their syntactic processing and children were significantly slower than adults. Results indicated that interpretation of sentences varied according to their prosodic forms.


Neither the ABH or the RBH explained how children and adults who speak Brazilian Portuguese use prosodic boundaries to disambiguate sentences. There is evidence that the way prosodic boundaries influence disambiguation varies cross-linguistically.


Child Language; Prosody; Syntax; Syntactic Ambiguity; Sentence Comprehension


  1. Deniz ND, Fodor JD. Timing of syntactic and rhythmic effects on ambiguity resolution in turkish: a phoneme restoration study. Lang Speech. 2020;63(4):832-55. PMid:31868561.
  2. Carvalho A, Christophe A, Dautriche I, Lin I. Phrasal prosody constrains syntactic analysis in toddlers. Cognition. 2017;163:67-79. PMid:28288369.
  3. Kolberg L, de Carvalho A, Babineau M, Havron N, Fiévet A-C, Abaurre B, et al. “The tiger is hitting! the duck too!” 3-year-olds can use prosodic information to constrain their interpretation of ellipsis. Cognition. 2021;213:104626. PMid:33593594.
  4. Caccia M, Lorusso ML. When prosody meets syntax: the processing of the syntax-prosody interface in children with developmental dyslexia and developmental language disorder. Lingua. 2019;224:16-33.
  5. Dinçtopal Deniz N, Fodor JD. Phrase lengths and the perceived informativeness of prosodic cues in Turkish. Lang Speech. 2017;60(4):505-29. PMid:29216811.
  6. Watson D, Gibson E. Intonational phrasing and constituency in language production and comprehension. Stud Linguist. 2005;59(2–3):279-300.
  7. Clifton C Jr, Carlson K, Frazier L. Informative prosodic boundaries. Lang Speech. 2002;45(2):87-114. PMid:12613557.
  8. Carlson K, Clifton C Jr, Frazier L. Prosodic boundaries in adjunct attachment. J Mem Lang. 2001;45(1):58-81.
  9. Beckman ME, Hirschberg J. The ToBI annotation conventions. Ohio: Ohio State University; 1994.
  10. Snedeker J, Casserly E. Is it all relative? Effects of prosodic boundaries on the comprehension and production of attachment ambiguities. Lang Cogn Process. 2010;25(7-9):1234-64.
  11. Mitterer H, Kim S, Cho T. The role of segmental information in syntactic processing through the syntax–prosody interface. Lang Speech. 2021;64(4):962-79. PMid:33307954.
  12. Diehl JJ, Friedberg C, Paul R, Snedeker J. The use of prosody during syntactic processing in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Dev Psychopathol. 2015;27(3):867-84. PMid:25156911.
  13. Choi Y, Trueswell JC. Children’s (in)ability to recover from garden paths in a verb-final language: evidence for developing control in sentence processing. J Exp Child Psychol. 2010;106(1):41-61. PMid:20163806.
  14. Snedeker J, Trueswell J. Using prosody to avoid ambiguity: effects of speaker awareness and referential context. J Mem Lang. 2003;48(1):103-30.
  15. Monnin P, Grosjean F. Les structures de performance en français: caractérisation et prédiction. Annee Psychol. 1993;93(1):9-30.
  16. Magalhães J, Maia M. Pistas prosódicas implícitas na resolução de ambigüidades sintáticas: um caso de adjunção de atributos. Rev ABRALIN. 2017;5(1-2):143-67.
  17. Fodor JD. Prosodic disambiguation in silent reading. In: NELS 32: Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society; 2002; Amherst, MA. Proceedings. Amherst: GLSA, University of Massachusetts; 2002.
  18. Snedeker J, Yuan S. Effects of prosodic and lexical constraints on parsing in young children (and adults). J Mem Lang. 2008;58(2):574-608. PMid:19190721.
  19. Fortunato-Tavares T, Schwartz R, Marton K, de Andrade C, Houston D. Prosodic boundary effects on syntactic disambiguation in children with cochlear implants. J Speech Lang Hear Res Online. 2018;61(5):1188-202. PMid:29800355.
  20. ABEP: Associação Brasileira de Empresas de Pesquisa. Critério Brasil [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Mar 11]. Available from:
  21. Andrade CRF, Lopes DMB, Fernandes FDM, Wertzner HF. ABFW: teste de linguagem infantil nas áreas de fonologia, vocabulário, fluência e pragmática. Barueri: Pró-Fono; 2011.
  22. Brown L, Sherbenou RJ, Johnsen SK. TONI4 Test of Nonverbal Intelligence Fourth Edition [Internet]. Austin: PRO-ED; 2021 [cited 2021 Mar 11]. Available from:
  23. Fortunato-Tavares T, Andrade CRF, Befi-Lopes D, Limongi SO, Fernandes FDM, Schwartz RG. Syntactic comprehension and working memory in children with specific language impairment, autism or Down syndrome. Clin Linguist Phon. 2015;29(7):499-522. PMid:25901467.
  24. Fortunato-Tavares T, Andrade CRF, Befi-Lopes DM, Hestvik A, Epstein B, Tornyova L, et al. Syntactic structural assignment in Brazilian Portuguese-Speaking Children with specific language impairment. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2012;55(4):1097-111. PMid:22232402.
  25. Fortunato-Tavares T, Howell P, Schwartz RG, Andrade CRF. Children who stutter exchange linguistic accuracy for processing speed in sentence comprehension. Appl Psycholinguist. 2017;38(2):263-87.
  26. Schafer A, Carlson K, Clifton H Jr, Frazier L. Focus and the interpretation of pitch accent: disambiguating embedded questions. Lang Speech. 2000;43(1):75-105.
  27. Frazier L, Carlson K, Clifton C Jr. Prosodic phrasing is central to language comprehension. Trends Cogn Sci. 2006;10(6):244-9. PMid:16651019.
  28. Shepherdson P, Oberauer K. Pruning representations in a distributed model of working memory: a mechanism for refreshing and removal? Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2018;1424(1):221-38. PMid:29683491.
  29. Kail R, Park Y-S. Processing time, articulation time, and memory span. J Exp Child Psychol. 1994;57(2):281-91. PMid:8169582.
  30. Huang YT, Hollister E. Developmental parsing and linguistic knowledge: reexamining the role of cognitive control in the kindergarten path effect. J Exp Child Psychol. 2019;184:210-9. PMid:31040025.
64077a22a95395593a7361c3 codas Articles


Share this page
Page Sections