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Do young children have adult-like syntactic categories? Zipf’s law and the case of the determiner

Pine, Julian M., Freudenthal, Daniel, Krajewski, Grzegorz and Gobet, Fernand ORCID: 0000-0002-9317-6886 (2013) Do young children have adult-like syntactic categories? Zipf’s law and the case of the determiner. Cognition, 127 (3). pp. 345-360. ISSN 0010-0277

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Identification Number: 10.1016/j.cognition.2013.02.006


Generativist models of grammatical development assume that children have adult-like grammatical categories from the earliest observable stages, whereas constructivist models assume that children’s early categories are more limited in scope. In the present paper, we test these assumptions with respect to one particular syntactic category, the determiner. This is done by comparing controlled measures of overlap in the set of nouns with which children and their caregivers use different instances of the determiner category in their spontaneous speech. In a series of studies, we show, first, that it is important to control for both sample size and vocabulary range when comparing child and adult overlap measures; second, that, once the appropriate controls have been applied, there is significantly less overlap in the nouns with which young children use the determiners a/an and the in their speech than in the nouns with which their caregivers use these same determiners; and, third, that the level of (controlled) overlap in the nouns that the children use with the determiners a/an and the increases significantly over the course of development. The implication is that children do not have an adult-like determiner category during the earliest observable stages, and that their knowledge of the determiner category only gradually approximates that of adults as a function of their linguistic experience.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
Divisions: CPNSS
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2019 15:45
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 02:54

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