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J Exp Child Psychol. 2012 Aug;112(4):417-36. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.01.005. Epub 2012 May 23.

Knowing a lot for one's age: Vocabulary skill and not age is associated with anticipatory incremental sentence interpretation in children and adults.

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Center for Research in Language, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Exp Child Psychol. 2013 Feb;114(2):371-3.


Adults can incrementally combine information from speech with astonishing speed to anticipate future words. Concurrently, a growing body of work suggests that vocabulary ability is crucially related to lexical processing skills in children. However, little is known about this relationship with predictive sentence processing in children or adults. We explore this question by comparing the degree to which an upcoming sentential theme is anticipated by combining information from a prior agent and action. 48 children, aged of 3 to 10, and 48 college-aged adults' eye-movements were recorded as they heard a sentence (e.g., The pirate hides the treasure) in which the object referred to one of four images that included an agent-related, action-related and unrelated distractor image. Pictures were rotated so that, across all versions of the study, each picture appeared in all conditions, yielding a completely balanced within-subjects design. Adults and children quickly made use of combinatory information available at the action to generate anticipatory looks to the target object. Speed of anticipatory fixations did not vary with age. When controlling for age, individuals with higher vocabularies were faster to look to the target than those with lower vocabulary scores. Together, these results support and extend current views of incremental processing in which adults and children make use of linguistic information to continuously update their mental representation of ongoing language.

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