Syntactic priming during language acquisition

The presence of syntactic priming effects in children has been assumed to indicate abstract knowledge of grammar. No study had yet demonstrated that children with better grammatical knowledge are primed more. Current literature debated whether syntactic priming reflects implicit or explicit learning - or a combination of the two. The project aimed to investigate this.

125 children aged 4-6-years were assessed by a test of syntactic priming, a test of vocabulary knowledge, a test of grammatical knowledge, tests of explicit and implicit memory, and a test of non-verbal intelligence.

The two main findings were that between 50 - 70% of the children were primed, depending on the coding scheme used. The children’s tendency to be primed did not relate to their linguistic and non-linguistic knowledge in every instance. This suggests that an assumption of priming – that children who are primed possess more abstract knowledge than children who are not – may not always be the case. However, for those children who were primed, vocabulary and grammatical knowledge did predict the magnitude of their priming effect. That is, those who were primed more had better vocabulary and syntactic knowledge.

Explicit and implicit memory also predicted priming but at different points throughout the priming task. Explicit memory was related to priming during the test phase of the experiment. Implicit memory was related to priming during the post-test phase. Further research is ongoing and a longitudinal study of declarative and procedural memory has just been published.

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Project details



Dr Evan Kidd, University of Manchester and La Trobe University, Australia

Grant amount and duration


1 April 2007 - 31 March 2008



'Longitudinal study of declarative and procedural memory in primary school-aged children', Lum J, Kidd E, Davis S, Conti-Ramsden G, Australian Journal of Psychology, 2009

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