Mandarin-speaking three-year-olds' demonstration of productive knowledge of syntax: Evidence from syntactic productivity and structural priming with the SVO-ba alternation

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Two studies investigated syntactic productivity in three-year-old Mandarin speakers' use of verbs in the SVO and SbaOV constructions. In Study 1, children were taught novel verbs in one construction and assessed for their production in the other construction. Children produced verbs taught in the ba constructions in SVO utterances, but showed order effects when producing verbs taught in SVO constructions in ba utterances. In Study 2, children described animated scenes either with structural priming (i.e., after hearing verbs in SVO or ba constructions). Children demonstrated structural priming, producing more SVO and ba utterances, respectively, directly after hearing verbs in these constructions. These results indicate that Mandarin speaking three-year-olds demonstrate productive knowledge of both SVO and SbaOV constructions. Their ability to override the predominant input frequency of SVO runs counter to a purely usage-based account of early acquisition of grammar.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1115-1146
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Jan 1


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology(all)

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