English-speaking children's early passives: evidence from syntactic priming

Katherine Messenger, Holly P. Branigan, Janet F. McLean, Antonella Sorace

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This syntactic priming study investigated semantic and lexical factors in 3- and 4-year-olds’ passives: early use of the English passive is argued to be semantically constrained to action verbs (Maratsos et al 1985) and young children apparently perform better with get- than be-passives (Harris & Flora 1982). Experiment 1 found a reliable priming effect of Structure (active – passive) on passive responses, but no effect of Verb-Type (actional – non-actional) suggesting that by 4, children do have an abstract passive representation that does not appear to be constrained by verb semantics. Experiment 2 confirmed a reliable priming effect from get- as well as be-passives. Priming from be- to get-passives suggests this effect did not arise solely from lexical priming of the auxiliary but that 4-yearolds have a common representation underlying both passives, though the absence of priming in the opposite direction suggests the passive may be acquired with get earlier than with be.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 32nd annual Boston University conference on language development
EditorsHarvey Chan, Heather Jacob, Enkeleida Kapia
Place of PublicationSomerville, MA
PublisherCascadilla Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9781574730845
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes
Event32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development - Boston, United States
Duration: 2 Nov 20074 Nov 2007
Conference number: 32

Publication series

NameBUCLD: Proceedings of the Boston University Conference on Language Development
PublisherCascadilla Press
ISSN (Print)1080-692X


Conference32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development
Abbreviated titleBUCLD 32
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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