Tonal repetition and tonal contrast in English carer-child interaction

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Research has so far failed to demonstrate how, or even that, young children progressively acquire a set of tones or pitch accents that have distinct meanings or functions. From recent work in the phonetics of conversation, there is some evidence that a speaker’s choice of tone can be accounted for by reference to the tone used in the previous speaker’s turn rather than by reference to an intonational lexicon. This view is supported by analysis of interactions between Robin, aged 19–21 months, and his mother. Robin systematically uses a repeat of his mother’s tone to display alignment with the ongoing activity, while using a different, contrasting tone when initiating a new action or sequence. It is suggested that such tonal repetition and contrast are fundamental to children’s learning of English intonation.


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