English Prosodic Focus Marking by Cantonese Trilingual Children With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder

Bruce Xiao Wang, Si Chen (Corresponding Author), Fang Zhou, Jiang Liu, Cheng Xiao, Angel Chan, Tempo Tang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


PURPOSE: The current study investigated English prosodic focus marking by autistic and typically developing (TD) Cantonese trilingual children, and examined the potential differences in this regard compared to native English-speaking children. METHOD: Forty-eight participants were recruited with 16 speakers for each of the three groups (Cantonese-speaking autistic [CASD], Cantonese-speaking TD [CTD], and English-speaking TD [ETD] children), and prompt questions were designed to elicit desired focus type (i.e., broad, narrow, and contrastive focus). Mean duration, mean fundamental frequency (F0), F0 range, mean intensity, and F0 curves were used as the acoustic correlates for linear mixed-effects model fitting and functional data analyses in relation to groups and focus conditions (i.e., broad, narrow, and contrastive pre-, on-, and post-focus). RESULTS: The CTD group had post-focus compression (PFC) patterns via reducing mean duration, narrowing F0 range, and lowering mean F0, F0 curve, and mean intensity for words under both narrow and contrastive post-focus conditions, while the CASD group only had shortened mean duration and lowered F0 curves. However, neither the CTD group nor CASD group showed much of on-focus expansion (OFE) patterns. The ETD group marked OFE by increasing mean duration, mean F0, mean intensity, and higher F0 curve for words under on-focus conditions. CONCLUSIONS: The CTD group utilized more acoustic cues than the CASD group when it comes to PFC. The ETD group differed from the CASD and CTD groups in the use of OFE. Furthermore, both the CASD and CTD groups showed positive first language transfer in the use of duration and intensity and, potentially, successful acquisition in the use of F0 for prosodic focus marking. Meanwhile, the differences in the use of OFE between the Cantonese-speaking and English-speaking groups, not PFC, might indicate that Cantonese-speaking children acquire PFC prior to OFE.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)782-801
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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