Syntactic, semantic, and rhythmic influences on children's and adults' motor programming of speech

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4 Scopus citations


The influence of linguistic and paralinguistic structure on speech motor programming was investigated for 5-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and adults. Subjects repeated verbal stimuli, each at maximum rate on numerous consecutive trials. It was hypothesized that structure in an utterance would allow a speaker to organize its motor program more efficiently than would be possible for an otherwise identical utterance that lacked such structure, although the types of structure employed might change with age. Differences in the efficiency of motor program organization were expected to be evidenced in the syllable duration and the relative variability of the syllable duration of subjects' repetitions. At all ages, repetition durations were shorter for stimuli with a sentencelike rhythm than for unstructured stimuli. Stimuli that were syntactically structured and contained a sentencelike rhythm were spoken with shorter durations than nonsyntactic stimuli with sentential rhythm but only by 8-year-olds and adults. Meaningful stimuli were produced with shorter durations than were nonmeaningful stimuli at all ages, but there were developmental differences as regards the types of sentence meaning that affected repetition duration and the role of practice in producing an effect of sentence meaning. Thus, there is a shift from a semantically and rhythmically based motor programming system at age 5 to a system that also utilizes syntax at age 8. The variability of repetition durations was minimally influenced by utterance structure. The implications of these cross-measure differences for models of motor programming are briefly considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-221
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Language and Linguistics


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