Abstract Morphosyntax in Two- and Three-Year-Old Children: Evidence from Priming

Lilia Rissman*, Geraldine Legendre, Barbara Landau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Young English-speaking children often omit auxiliary verbs from their speech, producing utterances such as baby crying alongside the more adult-like baby is crying. Studies have found that children's proficiency with auxiliary BE is correlated with frequency statistics in the input, leading some researchers to argue that children's auxiliary knowledge is item-specific and slow to develop. In a priming experiment, we investigated whether 2- and 3-year-old children represent auxiliary is and are as part of an abstract syntactic frame. We tested whether children could be primed to increase their auxiliary production when the prime and target differed by subject, verb and auxiliary type (is or are). We found these patterns of priming, indicating children represent auxiliary BE as part of an abstract syntactic frame that minimally contains is and are, despite the frequency-based effects reported in the literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-292
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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