Two 1/2-Year-Old Children Use Animacy and Syntax to Learn a New Noun

Document Type


Publication Date



We examine how attention to animacy information may contribute to children's developing knowledge of language. This research extends beyond prior research in that children were shown dynamic events with novel entities, and were asked not only to comprehend sentences but to use sentence structure to infer the meaning of a new word. In a 4 × 3 design, animacy status (e.g., animate agent, inanimate patient) and labeling syntax (agent, patient, nonlabel control) were varied. Across most events, 21/2-year-old participants responded as if they expected animate entities to be named. However, in a prototypical (animate agent-inanimate patient) event condition, children responded differentially across different syntactic structures. Thus, the clearest evidence for attention to syntactic cues was found in the prototypical event condition. These results suggest that young children attend to the animacy status of unfamiliar entities, that they have expectations about animacy relations in events, and that these expectations support emerging syntactic knowledge.

Document Object Identifier (DOI)



Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Publication Information