Is Structural Priming in Children Facilitated by Interactions between Animacy and Syntax?


Sentence production relies on the activation of semantic information and syntactic frames that specify an order for grammatical functions. However, it is unclear whether these semantic and syntactic processes interact. We examined the extent to which animacy-semantic role mappings in dative prime sentences and target scenes influenced choice of syntactic structure. 143 participants (47 three-year-olds, 48 five-year-olds and 48 adults) alternated with the experimenter in describing animations. Animacy mappings for themes and goals were either prototypical or non-prototypical and either matched or mismatched across the experimenter’s prime scenes and participants’ target elicitation scenes. Primes were either double-object datives or prepositional datives. Participants’ target sentences were coded for syntactic form. All age groups showed a main structural priming effect. For the youngest group, animacy-semantic role mappings facilitated prepositional dative priming. No animacy facilitation was found for the older groups. Our results demonstrate the changing influence of animacy-syntax interactions on sentence structure.

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