Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Structural priming in Spanish as evidence of implicit learning*

  • PERLA B. GÁMEZ (a1) and PRIYA M. SHIMPI (a2)

This study uses a structural priming technique with young Spanish speakers to test whether exposure to a rare syntactic form in Spanish (fue-passive) would increase the production and comprehension of that form. In Study 1, 14 six-year-old Spanish speakers described pictures of transitive scenes. This baseline study revealed that fue-passives were virtually non-existent in children's spontaneous speech. Using the priming technique in Study 2, an additional 56 Spanish-speaking children were exposed to fue-passive or active picture descriptions; we varied whether children repeated the modeled form. With repetition, production of fue-passives increased past baseline usage. When not asked to repeat, comprehension and production of fue-passives was no different than chance. Results extend the existing literature by experimentally testing input effects on the production and comprehension of infrequently used constructions, further corroborating the relation between input frequency and language skill. Findings are consistent with the view that an implicit learning mechanism guides language learning.

Corresponding author
[*]Address for Correspondence: Perla B. Gámez, Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, 1032 W. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60660. e-mail:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

S. E. Allen & M.B. Crago (1996). Early passive acquisition in Inuktitut. Journal of Child Language 23, 129155.

G. M. L. Bencini & V. Valian (2008). Abstract sentence representation in 3-year-olds: evidence from comprehension and production. Journal of Memory and Language 59,97113.

S. Bernolet , R. J. Hartsuiker & M. J. Pickering (2009). Persistence of emphasis in language production: a cross-linguistic approach. Cognition 112, 300317.

K. Bock (1986). Syntactic persistence in language production. Cognitive Psychology 18, 355387.

K. Bock , G. S. Dell , F. Chang & K. H. Onishi (2007). Persistent structural priming from language comprehension to language production. Cognition 104, 437458.

K. Bock & H. Loebell (1990). Framing sentences. Cognition 35, 139.

T. M. Bohman , L. M. Bedore , E. D. Peña , A. Mendez-Perez & R. B. Gillam (2010). What you hear and what you say: language performance in Spanish–English bilinguals. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 13, 325344.

P. Brooks & M. Tomasello (1999). Young children learn to produce passives with nonce verbs. Developmental Psychology 35, 2944.

F. Chang , G. S. Dell & K. Bock (2006). Becoming syntactic. Psychological Review 113, 234272.

F. Chang , G. S. Dell , K. Bock & Z. M. Griffin (2000). Structural priming as implicit learning: a comparison of models of sentence production. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 29, 217230.

A. A. Cleland & M. J. Pickering (2003). The use of lexical and syntactic information in language production: evidence from the priming of noun-phrase structure. Journal of Memory and Language 49, 214230.

K. Demuth (1990). Locatives, impersonals and expletives in Sesotho. Linguistic Review 7, 233249.

K. Demuth , F. Moloi & M. Machobane (2010). 3-year-olds’ comprehension, production, and generalization of Sesotho passives. Cognition 115, 238251.

V. S. Ferreira & J. K. Bock (2006). The functions of structural priming. Language and Cognitive Processes 21, 10111129.

P. B. Gámez & M. Vasilyeva (2015). Increasing second language learners’ production and comprehension of developmentally-advanced syntactic forms. Language Learning & Development 11, 128151.

M. B. Goldwater , M. Tomlinson , C. H. Echols & B. C. Love (2011). Structural priming as structure-mapping: young children use analogies from previous utterances to guide sentence production. Cognitive Science 35, 156170.

F. N. Harris & J. A. Flora (1982). Children's use of get passives. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 11, 297311.

R. J. Hartsuiker , M. J. Pickering & E. Veltkamp (2004). Is syntax separate or shared between languages? Cross-linguistic syntactic priming in Spanish–English bilinguals. Psychological Science 15, 409414.

E. Hoff (2006). How social contexts support and shape language development. Developmental Review 26, 5588.

J. Huttenlocher , M. Vasilyeva , E. Cymerman & S. C. Levine (2002). Language input at home and at school: relation to syntax. Cognitive Psychology 45, 337374.

J. Huttenlocher , M. Vasilyeva & P. Shimpi (2004). Syntactic priming in young children. Journal of Memory and Language 50, 182195.

M. P. Kaschak , T. J. Kutta & C. Schatschneider (2011). Long-term cumulative structural priming persists for (at least) one week. Memory &Cognition 39, 381388.

E. Kidd (2012). Implicit statistical learning is directly associated with the acquisition of syntax. Developmental Psychology 48, 171184.

M. Maratsos , D. E. C. Fox , J. A. Becker & M. A. Chalkley (1985). Semantic restrictions on children's passives. Cognition 19, 167191.

K. Messenger , H. P. Branigan & J. F. McLean (2011). Evidence for (shared) abstract structure underlying children's short and full passives. Cognition 121, 268274.

K. Messenger , H. P. Branigan , J. F. McLean & A. Sorace (2012). Is young children's passive syntax semantically constrained? Evidence from syntactic priming. Journal of Memory and Language 66, 568587.

M. J. Pickering & V. S. Ferreira (2008). Structural priming: a critical review. Psychological Bulletin 134, 427459.

A. Pierce (1992). The acquisition of passive in Spanish and the question of A-chain maturation. Language Acquisition 2, 5581.

C. Rowland , F. Chang , B. Ambridge , J. Pine & E. Lieven (2012). The development of abstract syntax: evidence from structural priming and the lexical boost. Cognition 125, 4963.

J. R. Saffran , R. N. Aslin & E. L. Newport (1996). Statistical learning by 8-month-old infants. Science 274, 19261928.

C. Savage , E. Lieven , A. Theakston & M. Tomasello (2003). Testing the abstractness of children's linguistic representations: lexical and structural priming of syntactic constructions in young children. Developmental Science 6, 557567.

C. Savage , E. Lieven , A. Theakston & M. Tomasello (2006). Structural priming as implicit learning in language acquisition: the persistence of lexical and structural priming in 4-year-olds. Language Learning and Development 2, 2749.

P. M. Shimpi , P. B. Gámez , J. Huttenlocher & M. Vasilyeva (2007). Syntactic priming in 3- and 4-year-old children: evidence for abstract representations of transitive and dative forms. Developmental Psychology 43, 13341346.

S. M. Suzman (1987). Passives and prototypes in Zulu children's speech. African Studies 46, 241254.

L. Tolchinsky & E. Rosado (2005). The effect of literacy, text type, and modality on the use of grammatical means for agency alternation in Spanish. Journal of Pragmatics 37, 209237.

M. Tomasello (2000). Do young children have adult syntactic competence? Cognition 74, 209253.

K. M. Tooley & K. Bock (2014). On the parity of structural persistence in language production and comprehension. Cognition 132, 101136.

M. Vasilyeva , J. Huttenlocher & H. Waterfall (2006). Effects of language intervention on syntactic skill levels in preschoolers. Developmental Psychology 42, 164174.

M. Vernice , M. Pickering & R. Hartsuiker (2012). Thematic emphasis in language production. Language and Cognitive Processes 27, 631664.

G. Whitehurst , M. Ironsmith & M. Goldfein (1974). Selective imitation of the passive construction through modeling. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 17, 288302.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 9
Total number of PDF views: 59 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 240 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.