Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 19–32 | Cite as

Understanding Prosodic Focus Marking in Mandarin Chinese: Data from Children and Adults

  • Hui-Ching ChenEmail author
  • Krista Szendrői
  • Stephen Crain
  • Barbara Höhle


This study investigated whether Mandarin speakers interpret prosodic information as focus markers in a sentence-picture verification task. Previous production studies have shown that both Mandarin-speaking adults and Mandarin-speaking children mark focus by prosodic information (Ouyang and Kaiser in Lang Cogn Neurosc 30(1–2):57–72, 2014; Yang and Chen in Prosodic focus marking in Chinese four-and eight-year-olds, 2014). However, while prosodic focus marking did not seem to affect sentence comprehension in adults Mandarin-speaking children showed enhanced sentence comprehension when the sentence focus was marked by prosodic information in a previous study (Chen in Appl Psycholinguist 19(4):553–582, 1998). The present study revisited this difference between Mandarin speaking adults and children by applying a newly designed task that tested the use of prosodic information to identify the sentence focus. No evidence was obtained that Mandarin-speaking children (as young as 3 years of age) adhered more strongly to prosodic information than adults but that word order was the strongest cue for their focus interpretation. Our findings support the view that children attune to the specific means of information structure marking in their ambient language at an early age.


Focus Prosody Language acquisition Mandarin Chinese Information structure 



We would like to acknowledge the German Exchange Academic Service (DAAD) for Chen, the DFG SFB632, and the support of the ESF EURO-EXPRAG Research Network Program for Höhle and Szendrői. Additionally, this work was also supported by the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctoral Programme of the European Union (IDEALAB), 2014-0685/001-001-EMJD (Framework Partnership Agreement 2012–2015). We also acknowledge the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders and as well as the Babylab in Potsdam. Finally, we would like to thank all the participants, parents and the teachers involved in the study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Doctorate for Experimental Approaches to Language and Brain (IDEALAB)University of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.University of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.University of TrentoTrentoItaly
  4. 4.University of NewcastleNewcastle upon TyneUK
  5. 5.Macquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  6. 6.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  7. 7.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and Its DisordersMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  8. 8.Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Research Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Brain SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  9. 9.Department of LinguisticsMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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