The Influence of Frequency and Semantic Similarity on How Children Learn Grammar
University of Kent
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Lexically based learning and semantic analogy may both play a role in the learning of grammar. To investigate this, 5-year-old German children were trained on a miniature language (nominally English) involving two grammatical constructions, each of which was associated with a different semantic verb class.Training was followed by elicited production and grammaticality judgement tests with ‘trained verbs’ and a ‘generalization’ test, involving untrained verbs. In the ‘trained verbs’ judgement test the children were above chance at associating particular verbs with the constructions in which they had heard them. They did this significantly more often with verbs which they had heard especially frequently in particular constructions, indicating lexically based learning. There was also an interaction between frequency and semantic class (or the particular verbs). In the generalization judgement test the children were at chance overall. In the elicited production generalization test 75% of the children used the same construction for all items.
First Language, Vol. 30, No. 1, 79-101 (2010)