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Abstract knowledge of word order by 19 months: An eye-tracking study

  • JULIE FRANCK (a1), SEVERINE MILLOTTE (a2), ANDRES POSADA (a1) and LUIGI RIZZI (a3)

Abstract

Word order is one of the earliest aspects of grammar that the child acquires, because her early utterances already respect the basic word order of the target language. However, the question of the nature of early syntactic representations is subject to debate. Approaches inspired by formal syntax assume that the head–complement order, differentiating verb–object and object–verb languages, is represented very early on in an abstract, rulelike format. In contrast, constructivist theories assume that it is initially encoded as lexicalized, verb-specific knowledge. In order to address this issue experimentally, we combined the preferential looking paradigm using pseudoverbs with the weird word order paradigm adapted to comprehension. The results, based on highly reliable, coder-independent eye-tracking measures, provide the first direct evidence that as early as 19 months French-speaking infants have an abstract representation of the word order of their language.

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Corresponding author

ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Julie Franck, Laboratoire de psycholinguistique, Université de Genève, FAPSE, 40, Boulevard du Pont d'Arve, Geneva 1205, Switzerland. E-mail: Julie.Franck@unige.ch

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