Infants’ ability to discriminate between statements and questions


Children must distinguish between statements and questions in order to accurately acquire language, but it is unclear when or how they do it. Experiment 1 examined whether prosodic characteristics of infant-directed questions and statements could differentiate them. Statements and yes/no questions differed on several dimensions, but statements and wh-questions did not. Experiment 2 tested whether 11-13-month-olds could nevertheless distinguish sentence types using lexical information. Half the infants were familiarized to statements, the remainder to questions. All infants were tested on new sentences of both types. Sentences were resynthesized to have monotone pitch and matched utterance-final vowel length, neutralizing any prosodic differences. Overall, there was a significant novelty preference and no interaction of trial type with familiarization type. Thus, while prosody is insufficient for distinguishing wh-questions from statements, by 11-months infants can use word order to distinguish statements and questions. This ability could provide an important foundation for acquiring syntactic knowledge.

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