Get the focus right:

a cross-linguistic study on prosodic encoding of focus in children

The research programme “Get the focus right: a cross-linguistic study on prosodic encoding of focus in children” (2011 ~ 2016) is funded by a VIDI grant awarded to Dr. Aoju Chen by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). This programme investigates how 4- to 10-year-olds acquire prosodic encoding of focus in four languages differing in both prosodic realisation of focus and lexical specifications of prosody, i.e. Korean, Swedish, Dutch and Mandarin Chinese. It aims to develop a comprehensive theory of acquisition of prosodic encoding of focus with an emphasis on language-specificity and individual differences.

This programme is carried out at Utrecht Institute of Linguistics – OTS. It consists of three projects:

Projects 1 & 2: These are two PhD projects, examining the cross-linguistic similarities and differences in the acquisition of prosodic focus-marking. The following research questions are addressed: (1) How does the employment of a prosodic parameter for lexical purposes affect the acquisition of the use of the same parameter in marking focus? (2) How does the relation between the focus-marking pitch gesture and the focused word affect the acquisition of the focus-marking pitch gesture? (3) How do children acquire the prosodic adjustment in the post-focus sequence? Project 1 is about children learning Swedish and Dutch; project 2 is about children learning Korean and Mandarin Chinese.

Project 3: This project investigates how children acquiring the same L1s (i.e. Dutch and Mandarin Chinese) differ from each other in the acquisition of prosodic focus-marking and what cognitive and linguistic factors play a role in individual differences in this aspect of language development.