What lurks beneath: Syntactic priming during language comprehension in preschoolers (and adults)
How do young children represent the structure of an utterance? Do they employ abstract syntactic categories? Or are their representations more concrete and lexically limited? Our recent work brings together the world-situated eye-gaze paradigm and syntactic priming to explore these questions. We begin by reviewing theories of syntactic development and describing previous studies of syntactic priming during children’s language production. Then we introduce our method for exploring priming during comprehension. Next we present a series of experiments on priming in adults, 4-year-olds and 3-year-olds. In each case the participants’ interpretation is influenced by the structure of prior utterances, even in the absence of lexical overlap. We conclude that young children (and adults) employ abstract syntactic representations during on-line sentence comprehension.