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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
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/psych/people/kmessenger/
Institution: University of Warwick
Author: Holly P. Branigan
Email: click here TO access email
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.

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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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