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Individual differences in syntactic priming in language acquisition

  • EVAN KIDD (a1)

Although the syntactic priming methodology is a promising tool for language acquisition researchers, using the technique with children raises issues that are not problematic in adult research. The current paper reports on an individual differences study that addressed some of these outstanding issues. (a) Does priming purely reflect syntactic knowledge, or are other processes involved? (b) How can we explain individual differences, which are the norm rather than the exception? (c) Do priming effects in developmental populations reflect the same mechanisms thought to be responsible for priming in adults? One hundred twenty-two (N = 122) children aged 4 years, 5 months (4;5)–6;11 (mean = 5;7) completed a syntactic priming task that aimed to prime the English passive construction, in addition to standardized tests of vocabulary, grammar, and nonverbal intelligence. The results confirmed the widely held assumption that syntactic priming reflects the presence of syntactic knowledge, but not in every instance. However, they also suggested that nonlinguistic processes contribute significantly to priming. Priming was in no way related to age. Finally, the children's linguistic knowledge and nonverbal ability determined the manner in which they were primed. The results provide a clearer picture of what it means to be primed in acquisition.

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Corresponding author
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Evan Kidd, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK. E-mail:
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Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
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