Thomas Grünloh studied Phonetics, German and Nordic languages at the University of Cologne (MA Thesis: “Information Structure and Accentuation in Swedish Language”). He is currently writing his dissertation about the role of prosody in language acquisition in the Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Tid och plats

: 19 maj kl. 15 i rum C307


To become competent with language, young children must learn many different properties of the particular language that they are acquiring. For example, they have to learn words and how to combine these words in order to form syntactic constructions. According to usage-based linguistics, syntactic constructions – like words – have communicative functions, which are marked by morpho-syntactic cues (word order, case marking etc.) as well as prosodic cues.
In recent language acquisition research, the vast majority of studies have investigated how and when children start to use and comprehend the morpho-syntactic properties of their language whereas only a few researchers have paid attention to children’s use and comprehension of prosodic cues. Thus, we know a lot about how children acquire the function of purely morpho-syntactic cues, but we do not really know how and when children acquire prosodic cues. However prosody is central to the paralinguistic communicative properties of a particular language: what speakers want to say, what they are referring to, what is important to them.

In this talk, I will present data from my research which examines young children’s understanding of prosody. Specifically, I have been investigating three main stages of language acquisition:

  1. young children’s use of prosody in word learning (at 20 & 26 months),
  2. the prosodic realization of target referents that have different informational statuses within a discourse (at 2;6 years) and
  3. preschooler`s use of prosodic cues in resolving participant roles in complex syntactic constructions as well as in resolving syntactic ambiguities (at 4;6 years).

The results from these studies will be discussed with regard to the physiological as well as the cognitive development of young children. They demonstrate that prosody is an important cue for young children from early on. By learning a language, children use the information that is provided by prosody, not only to learn words and to combine them to syntactic constructions, but also for the understanding of paralinguistic properties of language. Thus, to fully understand the development of cognitive and linguistic skills in young children, the role of prosody must be taken into account.