Syntactic priming of noun phrases in children : investigating susceptibility to preferred and dispreferred structures
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The present study investigates syntactic priming with children aged three and four. It examines whether children can be primed to use two alternative complex noun phrases (an adjective+noun structure and a noun+relative clause construction) to describe pictures, how susceptible children are to priming (in comparison to adult subjects) and which of the two alternative phrases is preferred according to a baseline condition (a bare noun prime). The priming task was a children’s game, ‘Snap’, in which the picture cards were described. The participant heard the experimenter describe her card then described their own: the phrase they produced was thus primed from their comprehension. The main result was that children were primed to use both structures, although following the baseline condition the adjective+noun phrase was used at most, and at more than chance level, leading to the conclusion that this structure is the preferred. The results from the experiment with adults were only marginally significant in the items analysis only. Otherwise there were no significant effects with these participants; the experiment design was considered as a possible reason for this outcome. Since the adults were not reliably primed using this method, no firm conclusion as to the susceptibility of children to priming, compared to adults, could be made. There was however a strong priming effect among the child participants.