The Effect of Phonological Relatedness on Syntactic Priming, and what this explains about the Nature of Children's and Adults Abstract Linguistic Representations
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Syntactic priming is a paradigm widely used to investigate the nature of abstract linguistic representations in adults. The relationship between the preceding sentence and its response allows for assumptions to be drawn concerning the nature of that person’s internal representations, and priming help us to understand how people learn language and formulate utterances. More recently, priming has also been used to assess the nature of young children’s abstract representations and whether these are consistent with adults’. This study examines the relationships between the phonological and syntactic aspects of these abstract representations, and investigates if these differ with age. Sixteen children and sixteen adults participated in the experiment, which was designed to resemble a game of “snap,” as used in a similar study by Branigan, McLean and Jones (2005a) in which reliable priming of young children was found. The experimenter and the participant took it in turns to turn over cards depicting nouns in different colours, each time describing the card out loud. The study comprised four conditions; phonologically related/ adjective noun (AN), phonologically related/ noun-relative clause (RC), phonologically unrelated/ adjective noun and phonologically unrelated/ noun-relative clause. Utterances were recorded, transcribed and scored in order to determine whether there was a priming effect, and whether there was an effect of phonological relatedness. It is hypothesised that the both the children and the adults would show a significant priming effect, and that the children would show a significant effect of phonological relatedness. Priming is also expected to be evident in the adult group, but to a lesser extent than the children, and in addition to this we predict that the adults shall show no significant effect of phonological relatedness. Overall, both the children and the adults produced significant priming effects. The results show that the children were no more likely to show evidence of priming after a phonologically related prime than after a phonologically unrelated prime. A significant interaction between level of priming and phonological relatedness was found in the adult data. Our findings are consistent with the theory that children do indeed appear to have complete abstract syntactic representations as stated by Fisher (2002), as they were not affected by the phonologically related condition. However, as the adults showed an effect of phonological relatedness there appears to be some difference between the systems employed by the different age groups.