The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Experimentalist Meeting 10/9 - Jad Wehbe (MIT)

Speaker: Jad Wehbe (MIT)
Title: Preschoolers’ comprehension of the interaction of intonation and illocutionary force (work with Daniel Goodhue, Valentine Hacquard and Jeffrey Lidz):

Time: Friday, October 9th, 2pm – 3:30pm


This study investigates preschoolers’ ability to infer the force of speakers’ intended speech acts when they don’t match the clause type uttered, by focusing on rising declaratives in English. Prior work shows that infants are sensitive to clause type and intonational distinctions, but doesn’t address speech act interpretation. We show that children deploy a sophisticated understanding of pragmatics and prosody to uncover the intended illocutionary force of speakers’ utterances. This is done via the results of a comprehension task in which children helped a puppet place animals in workplaces throughout a village. In each trial, the puppet either made a statement about where an animal works, in which case the child had to place the animal in the corresponding location, or the puppet forgot and asked a question, in which case the child had to check a book containing information about each animal’s workplace.