Priming syntactic ambiguity resolution in children and adults

Naomi Havron, Camila Scaff, Maria Julia Carbajal, Tal Linzen, Axel Barrault, Anne Christophe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adults use their recent experience to disambiguate ambiguous sentences: Structures that have recently been primed are favoured in the resolution of different types of ambiguity, an example of structural priming. Research on children's use of recent information for disambiguation is scarce. Using a forced-choice task with a tablet, we asked whether 5–6-year-old French-speaking children could also be primed in the resolution of attachment ambiguities, as well as whether listeners are affected by the proportion of primes of each structure, and whether priming is cumulative. We found that both children and adults can be primed, and are sensitive to the proportion of structures in the input, and that priming effects cumulate as the experiment progresses. This is the first study showing priming of ambiguous sentences at 5–6 years, suggesting that children, like adults, use recent experience as a source of disambiguating information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1445-1455
Number of pages11
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a postdoctoral grant to the first author from the French Embassy in Israel and The Victor Smorgon Charitable Fund, and by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche [grants n° ANR-13-APPR-0012 LangLearn, ANR-17-CE28-0007-01 LangAge, and ANR-17-EURE-0017 FrontCog]. We would like to thank Anne-Caroline Fiévet, our babylab manager for her help with recruitment and testing, and Marion Beretti and Alex de Carvalho for their help in testing. We thank Shravan Vasishth for statistical advice, Alex Cristia for allowing us to use the tablet application, Sharon Lim Sautarel for drawing the stimuli for the experiment, and the schools, parents and children for their collaboration.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Adaptation
  • ambiguity
  • children
  • language
  • priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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