Syntactic priming: Investigating the mental representation of language

Branigan, Holly P., Pickering, Martin J., Liversedge, Simon Paul orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8579-8546, Stewart, Andrew J. and Urbach, Thomas P. (1995) Syntactic priming: Investigating the mental representation of language. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 24 (6). pp. 489-506. ISSN 0090-6905

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We argue that psycholinguistics should be concerned with both the representation and the processing of language. Recent experimental work on syntax in language comprehension has largely concentrated on the way in which language is processed, and has assumed that theoretical linguistics serves to determine the representation of language. In contrast, we advocate experimental work on the mental representation of grammatical knowledge, and argue that sybtactic priming is a promising way to do this. Syntactic priming is the phenomenon whereby exposure to a sentence with a particular syntactic construction can affect the subsequent processing of an otherwise unrelated sentence with the same (or, perhaps, related) structure, for reasons of that structure. We assess evidence for syntactic priming in corpora, and then consider experimental evidence for priming in production and comprehension, and for bidirectional priming between comprehension and production. This in particular strongly suggests that priming is tapping into linguistic knowledge itself, and is not just facilitating particular processes. The final section discusses the importance of priming evidence for any account of language construed as the mental representation of human linguistic capacities.

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