ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (3): 425-437.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.00425

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Prosodic boundaries in speech: A window to spoken language comprehension

FANG Lan1,2, ZHENG Yuanyi3,4, JIN Han2, LI Xiaoqing3,4, YANG Yufang3,4, WANG Ruiming1()   

  1. 1Key Laboratory of Brain, Cognition and Education Sciences, Ministry of Education, & Center for Studies of Psychological Application, School of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
    2School of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510030, China
    3Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    4Department of Psychology, Universities of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100149, China
  • Received:2020-05-04 Online:2021-03-15 Published:2021-01-26
  • Contact: WANG Ruiming


The perception of prosodic boundaries is critical to spoken language comprehension, and it has become a primary research topic among psychologists and psycholinguists in the past decade. Utterances are chunked into prosodic units of different strengths. The boundaries between prosodic units are mainly signaled by acoustic cues like pitch change, final lengthening, and pause. Previous cognitive, linguistic, developmental, and neuroimaging studies have significantly advanced our understanding of the processing of prosodic boundaries. We now know that listeners use a perceptual weighting strategy to process prosodic boundary cues, and there are specific brain mechanisms for prosodic boundary processing. The ability to processing prosodic boundaries steadily develops with age in young children and transfers to a second language, but it generally decreases with age in older adults. Future studies should expand the investigation of prosodic boundaries to more pragmatic genres and focus on revealing the cognitive mechanisms underlying prosodic boundary processing, the relationship between prosodic boundary and syntax processing, and the development of prosodic boundary perception in second language learners.

Key words: prosodic boundary, spoken language comprehension, acoustic characteristics, neural oscillation

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