Date of Submission

Spring 2014

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Literature; Psychology

Project Advisor 1

Barbara Luka

Project Advisor 2

Maria Sachiko Cecire

Abstract/Artist's Statement

It is questionable how children learn verbs because different verbs require different grammatical patterns. Innatist theorists believe that children are born with an innate grammar-learning device that equips children with instinctual knowledge of grammatical patterns. This contrasts with Michael Tomasello’s theory that children first learn one verb and its grammatical patterns before applying those grammatical patterns to other verbs that function similarly in a sentence. Since Tomasello’s theory prioritizes word meaning and learning context, I investigated whether the context of learning a novel verb affected the context it was produced in. My experiment was also inspired by my literary analysis of how word play affected the construction of the other worlds in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Harry Potter series. Following Bock’s (1986) structural priming paradigm, I asked 3rd graders to describe a picture after reading either a fantastical or a mundane passage. The picture depicted a mundane action that was the same in both conditions. None of the participants produced a description that had a fantastical premise or used the target verb. While the participants produced stories that had congruent grammatical properties, the children who read the mundane passage wrote significantly more and were also more likely to include multiple characters in their stories. From these results, I concluded that familiarity of context helped children to include more elements in their stories, even though this familiarity did not aid grammatical complexity.

Open Access Agreement

On-Campus only

Creative Commons License

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