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The syntagmatic–paradigmatic shift and reading development


This study examined developmental change in the word association task as reading acquisition occurred. Syntagmatic responses follow the stimulus word in discourse, ‘cold’ – ‘outside’, while paradigmatic associates are of the same form class, ‘cold’ – ‘hot’. Some 59 children were tested three times during the school year. The average age of the younger group was 5;4, and the older group, 6;2 at the October test. They were given the PPVT, the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, and a word association task. The younger group gave an increasing number of rhyming responses and the older group gave more paradigmatic responses as the year progressed. Regression analyses with the older group attributed this to reading acquisition. The changing nature of the cognitive representation of words as reading acquisition took place was discussed.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Virginia Cronin, Psychology Department, Mount St. Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3M 2J6, and by e-mail to
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The author would like to thank the staff and students of the Alexander School of Maryland, and the Talent House in Virginia for their help with this project. The author would also like to thank David Olson, Michelle Eskritt, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.
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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
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