Acquisition of the noun category: Exploring syntactic priming of noun phrase structure in young children and adults using novel and familiar noun prime stimuli.
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Objectives. The purpose of this study was to further investigate the nature of young children’s syntactic representations. More specifically, this study was interested in examining syntactic priming for noun phrase structure in 3-and-4 year old children using novel and familiar noun prime stimuli. In addition, an identical experimental procedure was performed with a group of university students to enable the direct comparison of priming effects in children and adults. Design and Method. The study involved 20 nursery school children and 20 university students who were all native speakers of English. To investigate syntactic priming, the confederate-scripting technique was adopted under the guise of a game of Snap. This procedure involved the naïve participant and experimenter confederate taking it in turns to describe picture cards to each other, before deciding if they were the same or not. Following the priming procedure the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS) was administered to child participants as a test of their receptive vocabulary. Results. Reliable priming effects were found for noun phrase structure across both novel and familiar noun conditions. This result was true for children and adults however, combined analysis did show that priming effects were significantly stronger amongst children. In further analysis, children’s score on the BPVS was found to correlate significantly with overall priming effect. Finally, basic univariate analysis showed that overall, children produced a greater number of non-preferred noun-relative clause structures towards the end of the priming session compared to at the beginning. Conclusions. Our results provide further evidence that children as young as 3-and 4-years old do have abstract syntactic representations at the level of noun phrase structure. In addition, it appears that children may be especially susceptible to syntactic priming compared to adults, a result that could possibly be explained by considering priming as a form of implicit learning.