Developing knowledge of nonadjacent dependencies

Jennifer Culbertson, Elena Koulaguina, Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, Géraldine Legendre, Thierry Nazzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Characterizing the nature of linguistic representations and how they emerge during early development is a central goal in the cognitive science of language. One area in which this development plays out is in the acquisition of dependencies—relationships between co-occurring elements in a word, phrase, or sentence. These dependencies often involve multiple levels of representation and abstraction, built up as infants gain experience with their native language. The authors used the Headturn Preference Procedure to systematically investigate the early acquisition of 1 such dependency, the agreement between a subject and verb in French, at 6 different ages between 14 and 24 months. The results reveal a complex developmental trajectory that provides the first evidence that infants might indeed progress through distinct stages in the acquisition of this nonadjacent dependency. The authors discuss how changes in general cognition and representational knowledge (from reflecting surface statistics to higher-level morphological features) might account for their findings. These findings highlight the importance of studying language acquisition at close time intervals over a substantial age range.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2174-2783
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number12
Early online date13 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


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