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Effects of Phrase Structure, Mean Depth, and Grammaticality on Children's Imitation of Sentences NICHD

Freedle, Roy O.; Keeney, Terrence J.; Smith, Nancy D.
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Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
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Subject/Key Words:
National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Early Childhood Education, Imitation, Linguistic Theory, Observational Learning, Recall (Psychology), Sentences, Syntax


This study investigated whether the tendency to delete function words and inflections of nouns and verbs (telegraphic speech) in an imitation task can be attributed solely to such factors as relative lack of stress and low information value. In addition, questions concerning the nature and size of the encoding unit used to store the sentences prior to recall were investigated. The results indicated that the telegraphic nature of children's (mean age 4 yrs. 4 mos.) imitations is a result not of their inability to perceive and process articles and inflections, but rather of their tendency to delete these at the time of sentence production. Evidence was also found for phrase structure as the encoding unit rather than individual words. Finally, an application of Yngve's sentence mean depth measure failed to account for relative difficulty of sentence imitations.

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