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Academic Paper

Title: Is Children's Acquisition of the Passive a Staged Process? Evidence from Six- and Nine-Year-Olds' Production of Passives
Author: Katherine Messenger
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Institution: University of Warwick
Author: Holly P. Branigan
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Institution: University of Edinburgh
Author: Janet F. McLean
Institution: University of Edinburgh
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition
Abstract: We report a syntactic priming experiment that examined whether children's acquisition of the passive is a staged process, with acquisition of constituent structure preceding acquisition of thematic role mappings. Six-year-olds and nine-year-olds described transitive actions after hearing active and passive prime descriptions involving the same or different thematic roles. Both groups showed a strong tendency to reuse in their own description the syntactic structure they had just heard, including well-formed passives after passive primes, irrespective of whether thematic roles were repeated between prime and target. However, following passive primes, six-year-olds but not nine-year-olds also produced reversed passives, with well-formed constituent structure but incorrect thematic role mappings. These results suggest that by six, children have mastered the constituent structure of the passive; however, they have not yet mastered the non-canonical thematic role mapping. By nine, children have mastered both the syntactic and thematic dimensions of this structure.


This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 39, Issue 5, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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