Infants can use distributional cues to form syntactic categories

Lou Ann Gerken, Rachel Wilson, William Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations

Abstract

Nearly all theories of language development emphasize the importance of distributional cues for segregating words and phrases into syntactic categories like noun, feminine or verb phrase. However, questions concerning whether such cues can be used to the exclusion of referential cues have been debated. Using the headturn preference procedure, American children aged 1 ; 5 were briefly familiarized with a partial Russian gender paradigm, with a subset of the paradigm members withheld. During test, infants listened on alternate trials to previously withheld grammatical items and ungrammatical items with incorrect gender markings on previously heard stems. Across three experiments, infants discriminated new grammatical from ungrammatical items, but like adults in previous studies, were only able to do so when a subset of familiarization items was double marked for gender category. The results suggest that learners can use distributional cues to category structure, to the exclusion of referential cues, from relatively early in the language learning process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-268
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of child language
Volume32
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology(all)

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