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Growth in syntactic complexity between four years and adulthood: evidence from a narrative task

  • Pauline FRIZELLE (a1) (a2), Paul A. THOMPSON (a1), David MCDONALD (a1) (a3) and Dorothy V. M. BISHOP (a1)

Studies examining productive syntax have used varying elicitation methods and have tended to focus on either young children or adolescents/adults, so we lack an account of syntactic development throughout middle childhood. We describe here the results of an analysis of clause complexity in narratives produced by 354 speakers aged from four years to adulthood using the Expressive, Receptive, and Recall of Narrative Instrument (ERRNI). We show that the number of clauses per utterance increased steadily through this age range. However, the distribution of clause types depended on which of two stories was narrated, even though both stories were designed to have a similar story structure. In addition, clausal complexity was remarkably similar regardless of whether the speaker described a narrative from pictures, or whether the same narrative was recalled from memory. Finally, our findings with the youngest children showed that the task of generating a narrative from pictures may underestimate syntactic competence in those aged below five years.

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