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Journal Article

Abstract priming and the lexical boost effect across development in a structurally biased language


Rowland,  Caroline F.
Language Development Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Kholodova, A., Peter, M., Rowland, C. F., Jacob, G., & Allen, S. E. M. (2023). Abstract priming and the lexical boost effect across development in a structurally biased language. Languages, 8: 264. doi:10.3390/languages8040264.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000E-36AE-2
The present study investigates the developmental trajectory of abstract representations for syntactic structures in children. In a structural priming experiment on the dative alternation in German, we primed children from three different age groups (3–4 years, 5–6 years, 7–8 years) and adults with double object datives (Dora sent Boots the rabbit) or prepositional object datives (Dora sent the rabbit to Boots). Importantly, the prepositional object structure in German is dispreferred and only rarely encountered by young children. While immediate as well as cumulative structural priming effects occurred across all age groups, these effects were strongest in the 3- to 4-year-old group and gradually decreased with increasing age. These results suggest that representations in young children are less stable than in adults and, therefore, more susceptible to adaptation both immediately and across time, presumably due to stronger surprisal. Lexical boost effects, in contrast, were not present in 3- to 4-year-olds but gradually emerged with increasing age, possibly due to limited working-memory capacity in the younger child groups.