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Which factors influence sentence continuation in children?

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A sentence continuation task was employed to determine how Italian speakers (ten four-year-olds, eleven five-year-olds, nine six-year-olds, and ten adults) interpret contrastive stress in order to decide which referent is more salient in a sentence, and thus more likely to be continued as the subject of a subsequent utterance. Participants as young as five years of age showed the tendency to mention next, as the subject of their sentence continuations, the referent that received contrastive stress in the previous utterance. Conversely, four-year-olds did not appear to rely on contrastive stress in order to decide which referent to mention next. These findings suggest that sensitivity to contrastive stress evolves with age and developmental changes occur between the age of four and six years of age.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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