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Structural priming in Spanish as evidence of implicit learning*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2015

Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago
School of Education, Mills College
E-mail address:


This study uses a structural priming technique with young Spanish speakers to test whether exposure to a rare syntactic form in Spanish (fue-passive) would increase the production and comprehension of that form. In Study 1, 14 six-year-old Spanish speakers described pictures of transitive scenes. This baseline study revealed that fue-passives were virtually non-existent in children's spontaneous speech. Using the priming technique in Study 2, an additional 56 Spanish-speaking children were exposed to fue-passive or active picture descriptions; we varied whether children repeated the modeled form. With repetition, production of fue-passives increased past baseline usage. When not asked to repeat, comprehension and production of fue-passives was no different than chance. Results extend the existing literature by experimentally testing input effects on the production and comprehension of infrequently used constructions, further corroborating the relation between input frequency and language skill. Findings are consistent with the view that an implicit learning mechanism guides language learning.

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