Borovsky, A., & Creel, S. C. (2014). Children and adults integrate talker and verb information in online processing. Developmental Psychology, 50(5), 1600–13. doi:10.1037/a0035591
Children seem able to efficiently interpret a variety of linguistic cues during speech comprehension, yet have difficulty interpreting sources of nonlinguistic and paralinguistic information that accompany speech. The current study asked whether (paralinguistic) voice-activated role knowledge is rapidly interpreted in coordination with a linguistic cue (a sentential action) during speech comprehension in an eye-tracked sentence comprehension task with children (ages 3–10 years) and college-aged adults. Participants were initially familiarized with 2 talkers who identified their respective roles (e.g., PRINCESS and PIRATE) before hearing a previously introduced talker name an action and object (“I want to hold the sword,” in the pirate’s voice). As the sentence was spoken, eye movements were recorded to 4 objects that varied in relationship to the sentential talker and action (target: SWORD, talker-related: SHIP, action-related: WAND, and unrelated: CARRIAGE). The task was to select the named image. Even young child listeners rapidly combined inferences about talker identity with the action, allowing them to fixate on the target before it was mentioned, although there were developmental and vocabulary differences on this task. Results suggest that children, like adults, store real-world knowledge of a talker’s role and actively use this information to interpret speech.