Intonational phonology can shed light on the nature of prosody in Japanese children with ASD: Dissociating linguistic and para-linguistic aspects of intonation

Reiko Mazuka


Speech of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has long been associated with atypical prosodic features. Yet, how their prosody differs from that of typically developing persons has not been well-understood. This paper will report data from Japanese high-functioning ASD children and show that an intonational phonological framework can offer a tool to dissociate linguistic aspects of prosody, which are determined by syntactic/lexical factors, from para-linguistic aspects, which are determined by para-linguistic factors such as pragmatic, social/communicative and emotional factors. ASD children’s production was mostly intact with regard to the linguistic aspects of prosody, yet they had considerable problems with para-linguistic aspects. Twelve Japanese children (10 males, ages 7-17) diagnosed as high-functioning ASD, and 14 typically developing children (8 males, ages 7-16) were tested in an elicited production task. The same children’s naturalistic conversations with an experimenter were also analyzed. The results revealed that both groups of children were able to produce syntactic and lexical aspects of prosody appropriately. Nevertheless, ASD children’s natural conversation contained significantly more instances that were judged “atypical” by trained phoneticians. These “atypical” sections occurred predominantly in the pragmatic and communicative aspects of prosody, e.g., too much emphasis, sudden speech rate changes, and inappropriate pitch contour. These results revealed that ASD participants are able to produce fundamental prosodic structures, while they may have difficulty in using prosody appropriately in interactive communication. It indicates that so-called “atypical prosody” in ASD speech may be better characterized as a secondary effect of the core symptoms of ASD in social communicative interaction difficulty, rather than a linguistic difficulty.


Cite as: Mazuka, R. (2020) Intonational phonology can shed light on the nature of prosody in Japanese children with ASD: Dissociating linguistic and para-linguistic aspects of intonation. Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020.


@inproceedings{Mazuka2020,
  author={Reiko Mazuka},
  title={{Intonational phonology can shed light on the nature of prosody in Japanese children with ASD: Dissociating linguistic and para-linguistic aspects of intonation}},
  year=2020,
  booktitle={Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020}
}