Syntactic and lexical alignment in young children
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The convergence of the language of interlocutors in dialogue through mechanisms of linguistic alignment has been studied primarily at syntactic and lexical levels of structure. The present study set out to investigate these processes in young children aged 3 and 4, with a control group of adults. A design was used whereby participants took turns describing cards depicting either scenes or objects in a game of ‘Snap!’. The experimenter read descriptions from a hidden script that systematically manipulated the type of prime given for each item (active versus passive sentences in the syntactic task, preferred versus dispreferred terms in the lexical task). It was examined as to whether participants’ subsequent responses were affected by this manipulation. Findings showed a significant alignment effect at both levels of linguistic structure in the child and adult groups. Adults were more likely to align than children at a lexical level, and children were slightly more likely to align than adults at a syntactic level. The child group was also tested for their language ability and performance in a false belief task; neither of these factors were found to influence the tendency to align. There was also no difference between 3 and 4 year olds in the level of alignment shown. The tendency to align in syntactic structure was not related to the tendency to align in lexical content. These results are discussed in relation to previous research and with particular regard to ‘mediated’ and ‘unmediated’ accounts of alignment.