Functional elements in infants' speech processing: The role of determiners in the syntactic categorization of lexical elements

Barbara Höhle*, Jürgen Weissenborn, Dorothea Kiefer, Antje Schulz, Michaela Schmitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

How do children determine the syntactic category of novel words? In this article we present the results of 2 experiments that investigated whether German children between 12 and 16 months of age can use distributional knowledge that determiners precede nouns and subject pronouns precede verbs to syntactically categorize adjacent novel words. Evidence from the head-turn preference paradigm shows that, although 12- to 13-month-olds cannot do this, 14- to 16-month-olds are able to use a determiner to categorize a following novel word as a noun. In contrast, no categorization effect was found for a novel word following a subject pronoun. To understand this difference we analyzed adult child-directed speech. This analysis showed that there are in fact stronger co-occurrence relations between determiners and nouns than between subject pronouns and verbs. Thus, in German determiners may be more reliable cues to the syntactic category of an adjacent novel word than are subject pronouns. We propose that the capacity to syntactically categorize novel words, demonstrated here for the first time in children this young, mediates between the recognition of the specific morphosyntactic frame in which a novel word appears and the word-to-world mapping that is needed to build up a semantic representation for the novel word.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-353
Number of pages13
JournalInfancy
Volume5
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

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