Priming the interpretation of ambiguous noun-noun compounds in young children
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Fialka, Justine K B
Abstract: Investigation into adult language users’ interpretation of ambiguous noun-noun compounds has been considerably explored and documented. However, investigation into the same phenomenon in a population such as young children has been slightly more limited. This paper reports a picture-matching experiment applied to 16 nursery children (mean age; 47.75 months) to investigate the effect of relation priming, and the influence of modifier and head constituents on the interpretation of novel ambiguous noun-noun compounds. The research reveals that young children are just as susceptible to relation priming as adults: there was no significant difference in magnitude of relation priming between the children and the adult control group. Interestingly, the research also revealed that young children are more likely to select a possessor-relation target when the head noun is repeated between prime and target, irrespective of relation. The findings are discussed with relation to competing models of conceptual combination in adults. Interpretation of the influence of the head noun concept in aiding comprehension is considered with regard to constraints on the hypotheses of young children for interpreting meanings for potential words, such as the taxonomic assumption and the whole-object assumption. The role played by nouns in distinguishing subcategories for children is also considered. The results are additionally discussed with regards to the possible effect of repetition priming on young children. Methodological considerations are suggested for future research.