"The grammar of action": Sequence and syntax in children's copying

Jacqueline J. Goodnow*, Rochelle A. Levine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


Progressions when copying shapes can be regarded as forming a path, with choices to be made at points along the path. Paths can be described in terms of rules that specify what to do at the start (e.g., start at the top rather than the bottom, with a vertical rather than a horizontal stroke) and in general (e.g., draw with a continuous line rather than a broken pattern). Such rules describe consistencies in the paths children and adults follow. They also allow us to describe age changes in terms of hierarchies of shifting rules, design differences in terms of conflict between rules, and errors (left-right reversals) in terms of the need to amend the usual rules. The results point to the advantages of treating graphic behavior as syntactic behavior and to the feasibility of using graphic tasks for the analysis of patterned or rule-governed activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-98
Number of pages17
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1973
Externally publishedYes


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