A Description of Syntactic Priming

Topics: Linguistics, Grammar, Early left anterior negativity Pages: 5 (1663 words) Published: July 21, 2013
Syntactic priming is a phenomenon where the exposure of a sentence with a particular syntactic structure can influence an individual presented the sentence with similar structure subsequently. (Pickering, M.J. & Branigan, H.P, 1995). The three components to be identified for syntactic priming are: (1) lexical priming, (2) categorization and (3) syntax. Firstly, lexical priming is dealing with the time in processing a word like manager - is believed to be lesser if the participant has been exposed to a related word like secretary; while the concept of categorization is about how the cognitive system recognizes a relationship between two stimuli, namely, an individual must be familiar with the workplace setting so as to identify that the secretary is normally an assistant to the manager; and the syntax is the rules for combining words into sentences, so that a sentence makes sense.

Syntactic priming
Syntactic priming is important in sentence processing. It provides better understanding about how the mechanisms of comprehension and production work for human in acquiring language. It tells that the processor of syntactic priming employs different knowledge sources by using bottom-up processing (by visually viewing a sentence) and top-down processing (by perceptually inferring knowledge and experiences related to a sentence), as well as by analyzing the characteristics, the plausibility and the compatibility of the words, with respect to the context and punctuation used in a sentence. Syntactic priming normally occurred when sentences are syntactically identical, as to illustrate: (1) The teacher gave the student the exercise.

(2) The boy showed the girl the letter.
Both sentences are using the double-object prime sentence construction. Besides, syntactic priming manifests itself efficiently in many ways, for instance, an individual will read (1) faster, more fluently and more likely to produce sentence structure like (1) after he/she gets exposure to (2). Furthermore, related laboratory findings provide evidences that syntactic priming effect might be found in priming in corpora, production-to-production priming and comprehension-to-comprehension priming.

Related laboratory findings
In priming in corpora, Giles & Powesland (1975) believed that there was a general tendency for a human to adapt his/her speech style to his/her audience’s listening style in order to build a strong rapport with one another due to social integration. However, in production-to-production priming, Pickering and Branigan (1995) argued that syntactic priming influences which sentence structure an individual chooses to produce because the underlying message that he/she wishes to convey can be expressed in more than one syntactic form, such as (3) a. The vendor sold some souvenirs to a tourist.

b. The vendor sold a tourist some souvenirs.
Nevertheless, Mehler and Carey (1967) emphasized that the comprehension of a sentence was actually relied on the structure of the previous comprehension which seemed superficially identical but indeed had different syntactic structure. Mehler and Carey’s comprehension-to-comprehension priming reasoning was supported by the event-related brain potentials (ERPs) experiment carried out by Osterhout and Holcomb (1992), again, revised by Urbach and Picketing (1995). ERPs were meant to find out whether priming occurred with sentences like (4) and (5):

(4) a. While the lady was eating the steak went cold.
b. While the lady was eating the steak the soup went cold. (5) a. Although the movie was frightening the girls love it. b. Although the movie was frightening the girls the boys love it. They found that in a range of “garden-path” constructions, the disambiguating word elicited a characteristic positive deflection in the waveform between about 500 milliseconds and 800 milliseconds post-stimulus, which meant the time needed to process the...

References: Giles, H., & Powesland, P. (1975). Speech style and social evaluation. London: Academic Press.
Huttenlocher, J., Vasilyeva, M., & Shimpi, P. (2003). Syntactic priming in young children. Journal of Memory and Language, 50 (2004), 182-195.
Lu, C. C., Bates, E., Hung, D., Tzeng, O., Hsu, J., Tsai, C. H., & Roe, K. (2001). Syntactic priming of nouns and verbs in chinese. Language and Speech, 2001, 44(4), 437-471.
Mehler, J., & Carey, P.W. (1967). Role of surface and base structure in the perception of senteces. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 6, 335-338.
Osterhou, L., & Holcomb, P.J. (1992). Event-related potentials elicited by syntactic anomaly. Journal of Memory and Language, 31, 785-806.
Pickering, M.J. & Branigan, H.P. (1995). Syntactic persistence in written language production: Priming from written production and reading. Unpublished manuscript.
Thothathiri, M., & Snedeker, J. (2006). Syntactic priming during language comprehension in three- and four-year-old children. Journal of Memory and Language, 58 (2008), 188-213.
Urbach, T.P., & Picketing, M.J. (1995). Event-related potentials and the processing of subordinate claues and reduced complement ambiguities. Unpublished manuscript.
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