ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (10): 1608-1619.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.01608

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The role of syntactic structure and verb overlap in spoken sentence production of 4- to 6-year-olds: Evidence from syntactic priming in Mandarin

WANG Yang1,2(), ZHANG Linshuang1, CUI Nannan1, WU Yan1,3()   

  1. 1School of Psychology, Northeast Normal University, Changchun 130024, China
    2Key Laboratory of Mental Development and Learning Science, Xinjiang normal university, Urumchi 830017, China
    3Jilin Provincial Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Brain Development, Changchun 130024, China
  • Received:2022-11-28 Published:2023-10-25 Online:2023-08-03
  • Contact: WANG Yang,WU Yan;
  • Supported by:
    Humanities and Social Sciences Youth Foundation, Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China(21YJCZH178);Jilin Office of Philosophy and Social Science(2021B148)


The period between the ages of 4 and 6 is crucial for children to develop their capacity for spoken sentence production. The interplay between syntactic and lexical information in children's sentence production has garnered attention in the field of language acquisition. We employed a syntactic priming paradigm with sentence repetition and image description tasks using the particular transitive structures of Chinese (SVO, SbaOV, and SbeiOV) as the corpus. A total of 77 preschool children with an average age of 4.4 years were enrolled in the experiment. The study involved the manipulation of Prime types (SVO, SbaOV, SbeiOV, and baseline) and Verb types (no-overlap versus overlap). The dependent variable was the ratio of syntactic choices. The results showed that abstract priming effects are induced by the three syntactic structures, irrespective of whether the verb overlaps or not. When children begin a specific sentence pattern, such as a SbaOV structure, they tend to formulate a SbaOV structure in the target sentence rather than an SVO or SbeiOV structure. This implies that the development of syntactic knowledge does not rely on lexical information. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that despite the absence of an increase in priming strength in SbaOV or SbeiOV structures with verb overlap, the probability of older children (5-6 years old) opting for an SOV structure during priming is augmented. To summarize, the acquisition of syntax in Chinese children aligns with the Implicit Learning Theory, whereby they exhibit abstract priming effects stemming from their anticipation of error estimates.

Key words: children, sentence production, abstract priming effect, lexical boost/dependent effect, syntactic structure preference, Mandarin