The phonetics of sentence-initial topic and focus in adult and child Dutch

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This study investigates whether adults and children use phonetic means to distinguish sentence-initial topic and focus marked with the same accent type (H*L) in Dutch declaratives. It was found that in adults’ speech, the falling accent starts to fall earlier and has a larger F0 excursion and lower F0 minimum in focus than in topic. Further, the low F0 is maintained longer in focus. Moreover, the accented syllable and word are longer in focus than in topic. In contrast, children do not yet use any of the phonetic cues to distinguish topic and focus at the age of 4 or 5. At the age of 7 or 8, they become adult-like only in the use of F0 lowering. Considering that children are fully adult-like in phonological marking of topic and focus at the age of 7 or 8, our findings suggest that phonetic marking is acquired later than phonological marking.


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