Developmental trajectory for production of prosody: Lexical stress contrastivity in children ages 3 to 7 years and in adults

Kirrie J. Ballard, Danica Djaja, Joanne Arciuli, Deborah G.H. James, Jan van Doorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Accurate production of lexical stress within English polysyllabic words is critical for intelligibility and is affected in many speech-language disorders. However, models of speech production remain underspecified with regard to lexical stress. In this study, the authors report a large-scale acoustic investigation of lexical stress production in typically developing Australian English-speaking children ages 3-7 years (n = 73) compared with young adults (n = 24). Method: Participants named pictures of highly familiar strong- weak and weak-strong polysyllabic words. Of 388 productions, 325 met criteria for acoustic measurement. Relative vowel duration, peak intensity, and peak f0 over the first two syllables were measured. Result: Lexical stress was marked consistently by duration and intensity but not f0. Lexical stress on strong-weak words was adultlike by 3 years. All 3 measures showed significant differences between adults and children for weak-strong words still present at 7 years. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that protracted development of weak-strong stress production reflects physiological constraints on producing short articulatory durations and rising intensity contours. Findings validate treatment that is centered on strong- weak stress production for children ≥ 3 years with dysprosody. Although intervention for the production of weak-strong words may be initiated before age 7 years, reference to normative acoustic data is preferable to relying on perceptual judgments of accuracy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1822-1835
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Children
  • Development
  • Lexical stress
  • Prosody
  • Speech production


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