Lexical frequency and exemplar-based learning effects in language acquisition: evidence from sentential complements

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Usage-based approaches to language acquisition argue that children acquire the grammar of their target language using general-cognitive learning principles. The current paper reports on an experiment that tested a central assumption of the usage-based approach: argument structure patterns are connected to high frequency verbs that facilitate acquisition. Sixty children (N = 60) aged 4- and 6-years participated in a sentence recall/lexical priming experiment that manipulated the frequency with which the target verbs occurred in the finite sentential complement construction in English. The results showed that the children performed better on sentences that contained high frequency verbs. Furthermore, the children's performance suggested that their knowledge of finite sentential complements relies most heavily on one particular verb - think, supporting arguments made by Goldberg [Goldberg, A.E., 2006. Constructions at Work: The Nature of Generalization in Language. Oxford University Press, Oxford], who argued that skewed input facilitates language learning. Crown Copyright © 2009.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-142
Number of pages10
JournalLanguage Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010