The development of Japanese passive syntax as indexed by structural priming in comprehension.
A number of previous studies reported a phenomenon of syntactic priming with young children as evidence for cognitive representations required for processing syntactic structures. However, it remains unclear how syntactic priming reflects children's grammatical competence. The current study investigated structural priming of the Japanese passive structure with 5- and 6-year-old children in a visual-world setting. Our results showed a priming effect as anticipatory eye movements to an upcoming referent in these children but the effect was significantly stronger in magnitude in 6-year-olds than in 5-year-olds. Consistently, the responses to comprehension questions revealed that 6-year-olds produced a greater number of correct answers and more answers using the passive structure than 5-year-olds. We also tested adult participants who showed even stronger priming than the children. The results together revealed that language users with the greater linguistic competence with the passives exhibited stronger priming, demonstrating a tight relationship between the effect of priming and the development of grammatical competence. Furthermore, we found that the magnitude of the priming effect decreased over time. We interpret these results in the light of an error-based learning account. Our results also provided evidence for prehead as well as head-independent priming.
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