Syntactic priming in two-year-old children

Foltz A, Knopf K, Thiele K, Stenneken P (2012)
Presented at the 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP), Riva del Garda, Italy.

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Conference Paper | Published | English
Abstract
Introduction There is an ongoing debate about the abstractness of young children’s syntactic representations. Syntactic priming studies show evidence of abstract syntactic representations in production as early as three years of age (e.g. Shimpi, Gámez, Huttenlocher, &Vasilyeva, 2007). Another debate centers around the mechanism behind syntactic priming, especially whether it is based on short-lived activation or longer-lived implicit learning (cf. Pickering & Ferreira, 2008). This study extends the syntactic priming paradigm for use with German-speaking two-year-old children to shed light on two questions: Can we find evidence for abstract syntactic representations in two-year-olds? Is syntactic priming short-lived or longer-lived? Experiment 1 In Experiment 1, older two-year-olds (2;7 to 2;11) described pictures with optionally transitive verbs. Pictures showed a girl named Emma and children were asked what she was doing. For example, children described a picture of Emma eating cheese as “essen” (“eating”, intransitive infinitive), “isst” (“eats”, intransitive conjugated), “Käse essen” (“eating cheese”, transitive infinitive), “isst Käse” (“eats cheese”, transitive conjugated) etc. Children first described 6 baseline pictures without prime sentences. 12 primed picture descriptions followed: First, the experimenter produced a prime sentence with a transitive or intransitive infinitive, for example, “Baby kitzeln” (“tickling a baby”) or “laufen” (“running”). Then, children described a target picture with an optionally transitive verb. Prime and target sentences shared no content words. Children were primed to use the transitive infinitive structure: They produced reliably more transitive infinitive responses following transitive infinitive (21.1%) compared to intransitive infinitive primes (8.9%) or the baseline (6.7%). Transitive conjugated responses did not increase, suggesting that transitive infinitive primes did not merely prime the message (i.e. producing an action and a patient/theme), but the syntactic structure. This suggests that older two-year-olds possess abstract syntactic representations. The data also show preliminary evidence for implicit learning: Priming was marginally stronger in the second compared to the first half of the experiment. Experiment 2 In Experiment 2, younger two-year-olds (2;0 to 2;6) performed the same task and showed no priming effect: They did not produce more transitive infinitive responses following transitive infinitive (10%) compared to intransitive infinitive primes (16.7%) or the baseline (4.4%). We thus find no evidence for abstract syntactic representations in children this young. However, children did react to the priming manipulation: They produced numerically more noun responses following transitive (25.6%) compared to intransitive primes (15.6%) or the baseline (17.8%). This increase in noun responses could stem from failed attempts to produce messages with action and patient/theme or to produce transitive structures. Conclusions The study presents novel evidence from production suggesting that abstract syntactic representations develop (or strengthen) during the second year of life. In addition, the results from the older two-year-olds support an implicit learning account of syntactic priming since priming increased over the course of the experiment. References Pickering, M.J. & Ferreira, V.S. (2008). Structural Priming: A Critical Review. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 427-459. Shimpi, P.M., Gámez, P.B., Huttenlocher, J., &Vasilyeva, M. (2007). Syntactic Priming in 3- and 4-Year-Old Children: Evidence for Abstract Representations of Transitive and Dative Forms. Developmental Psychology, 43:6, 1334-1346.
Publishing Year
Conference
18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP)
Location
Riva del Garda, Italy
Conference Date
2012-09-06 – 2012-09-08
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Foltz A, Knopf K, Thiele K, Stenneken P. Syntactic priming in two-year-old children. Presented at the 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP), Riva del Garda, Italy.
Foltz, A., Knopf, K., Thiele, K., & Stenneken, P. (2012). Syntactic priming in two-year-old children. Presented at the 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP), Riva del Garda, Italy.
Foltz, A., Knopf, K., Thiele, K., and Stenneken, P. (2012).“Syntactic priming in two-year-old children”. Presented at the 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP), Riva del Garda, Italy.
Foltz, A., et al., 2012. Syntactic priming in two-year-old children. Presented at the 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP), Riva del Garda, Italy.
A. Foltz, et al., “Syntactic priming in two-year-old children”, Presented at the 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP), Riva del Garda, Italy, 2012.
Foltz, A., Knopf, K., Thiele, K., Stenneken, P.: Syntactic priming in two-year-old children. Presented at the 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP), Riva del Garda, Italy (2012).
Foltz, Anouschka, Knopf, Karolin, Thiele, Kristina, and Stenneken, Prisca. “Syntactic priming in two-year-old children”. Presented at the 18th Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language processing (AMLaP), Riva del Garda, Italy, 2012.
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