Lexical and Prosodic Pitch Modifications in Cantonese Infant-directed Speech

Luchang Wang, Marina Kalashnikova, René Kager, Regine Lai, Patrick C.M. Wong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The functions of acoustic-phonetic modifications in infant-directed speech (IDS) remain a question: do they specifically serve to facilitate language learning via enhanced phonemic contrasts (the hyperarticulation hypothesis) or primarily to improve communication via prosodic exaggeration (the prosodic hypothesis)? The study of lexical tones provides a unique opportunity to shed light on this, as lexical tones are phonemically contrastive, yet their primary cue, pitch, is also a prosodic cue. This study investigated Cantonese IDS and found increased intra-Talker variation of lexical tones, which more likely posed a challenge to rather than facilitated phonetic learning. Although tonal space was expanded which could facilitate phonetic learning, its expansion was a function of overall intonational modifications. Similar findings were observed in speech to pets who should not benefit from larger phonemic distinction. We conclude that lexical-Tone adjustments in IDS mainly serve to broadly enhance communication rather than specifically increase phonemic contrast for learners.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1235-1261
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • infant-directed speech
  • lexical tones
  • pet-directed speech
  • the hyperarticulation hypothesis
  • the prosodic hypothesis

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