Are effects of structural experience in language acquisition affected by structural frequency? Evidence from syntactic priming.
Adair Caitlin Dissertation 2013.pdf (497.9Kb)
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This paper presents an experiment that demonstrates syntactic priming in three- and four-year-old children, exploring the effect the relative frequency of a construction has on children‟s structural experience in language acquisition. We selected a priming paradigm in the form of a „snap‟ game in an attempt to elicit both forms of transitive and ditransitive alternations. While children have been shown to frequently produce both forms of the ditransitive alternation, the passive form of the transitive alternation is very infrequent in both children‟s own productions, and child-directed speech. Participants described a set of cards that depicted both transitive and ditransitive events after hearing the experimenter describe a lexically unrelated transitive or ditransitive event. We found priming for both children and our adult control group; however children showed stronger priming for the less frequent construct, while showing relatively weak priming for the more frequent ditransitive construct. Results provide further evidence for an implicit learning theory; children were more susceptible to priming of an infrequent structure and this effect was robust and increased over a significant period of time. Thus, frequency plays a significant role in children's experience during language acquisition.