Syntactic Priming in Children: The Effect of Persistence and the Lexical Boost on the Acquisition of Abstract Syntax
Ailsa Donaldson - Psychology Dissertation 2010.doc (647Kb)
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Increasing interest in the way in which children represent syntactic information has led to various theories of language acquisition. It is generally agreed that adults represent syntax abstractly, thus the age at which this abstraction ability is acquired is directly relevant for informing language acquisition in children. Research with adults has focused on some aspects of priming including priming persistence and the lexical boost. Priming is an important tool for assessing language as a successfully primed sentence reflects the representation formed. This study utilised the ‘snap’ game method designed by Branigan, McLean and Jones (2005), and picture cards created by Messenger (2009), depicting scenes describable by active and passive transitive sentence structures. Preschool children and adults participated in the scripted ‘snap’ game in which variables, each with two equally represented conditions were presented: active and passive sentence structures; same and different transitive verbs between prime and target picture stimuli; and an existence of two consecutive place-holder interference stimuli, either between or after prime and target stimuli. Responses were scored under strict and lenient criteria. There was a significant effect of priming across ages and scoring; a persistence effect of syntax representation for both structural forms; and a lexical boost effect. Findings of this study support an abstract syntax representation account of language acquisition in preschool children (Fisher, 2002), however the replication of a lexical boost suggests that lexical overlap can aid the activation of a specific form. Although it may be argued that the residual activation model (Pickering and Branigan, 1998) may account most successfully for the findings in this study, results cannot fully reflect the means by which syntactic information is represented, and hence there may have been an implicit learning effect that cannot be inferred without further research.