Syntactic Prediction Adaptation Accounts for Language Processing and Language Learning

Naomi Havron, Mireille Babineau, Anne Caroline Fiévet, Alex de Carvalho, Anne Christophe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A previous study has shown that children use recent input to adapt their syntactic predictions and use these adapted predictions to infer the meaning of novel words. In the current study, we investigated whether children could use this mechanism to disambiguate words whose interpretation as a noun or a verb is ambiguous. We tested 2- to 4-year-old French children using the phrase la petite followed by a homophone that could be interpreted as either a noun or a verb. We assigned the children to a noun condition or a verb condition. Before the test, those in the noun condition were exposed to sentences where la petite predicted nouns, and those in the verb condition to sentences where la petite predicted verbs. At testing, 3- to 4-year-olds, but not 2-year-olds, from the verb condition looked at the verb interpretation longer than did the children in the noun condition. This suggests a progression in children's ability to rely on input to adapt their predictions in language comprehension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1194-1221
Number of pages28
JournalLanguage Learning
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Language Learning Research Club, University of Michigan


  • ambiguity resolution
  • child language
  • homophones
  • language acquisition
  • language processing
  • prediction
  • syntactic adaptation
  • syntactic priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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