Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Mothers are less efficient in employing prosodic disambiguation in child-directed speech than non-mothers : is there a trade-off between affective and linguistic prosody?

By Sonja Schaeffler and Vera Kempe


This study examines prosodic disambiguation in\ud child-directed (CD) speech. Twenty-four mothers\ud addressed syntactically ambiguous sentences to\ud their 2;0 to 3;8 year old child and to an adult confederate.\ud Twenty-four non-mothers addressed an\ud imaginary toddler and an imaginary adult. We\ud found that only mothers increased pitch and produced\ud the CD-typical pitch excursions when addressing\ud their children. In contrast, non-mothers,\ud but not mothers, used prosodic disambiguation in\ud CD speech, which was corroborated by a forced\ud choice test in which 48 listeners judged the intended\ud meaning of each sentence. The results suggest\ud that if speakers express genuine positive affect,\ud they tend to emphasise affective prosody at the expense\ud of linguistic prosody. In the case of CD\ud speech, this communication strategy may be more\ud effective as it serves to elicit the child’s attention

Topics: P1
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (1999). Child-directed speech produced by mothers with symptoms of depression fails to promote associative learning in 4-month-old infants. doi
  2. (2002). Hemispheric specialization of linguistic pitch patterns. doi
  3. (1994). Human maternal vocalizations to infants as biologically relevant signals: An evolutionary perspective. In
  4. (2005). Infantdirected speech facilitates word segmentation. doi
  5. (2002). Infants of depressed mothers, although competent learners, fail to learn in response to their own mothers’ infant-directed speech. doi
  6. (2002). Infants’ listening preferences: Baby talk or happy talk? doi
  7. (2004). Orbitofrontal cortex tracks positive mood in mothers viewing pictures of their newborn infants. doi
  8. (2005). Praat: Doing Phonetics by Computer (Version 4.3.04) [Computer Program].
  9. (2005). Prosodic disambiguation of syntactic structure: For the speaker or for the addressee? doi
  10. (1991). Prosody and focus in speech to infants and adults. doi
  11. (1996). Signal to Syntax: Bootstrapping from Speech to Grammar in Early Acquisition. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. doi
  12. (2003). Speech motor control is task-specific: Evidence from dysarthria and apraxia of speech. doi
  13. (1999). The neural bases of prosody:Insights from lesion studies and neuroimaging. doi
  14. (1995). The role of fundamental frequency in signalling linguistic stress and affect: Evidence for a dissociation. Perception & doi
  15. (2003). Using prosody to avoid ambiguity: Effects of speaker awareness and referential context. doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.