Growth in syntactic complexity between 4 years and adulthood: evidence from a narrative task

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Frizelle, Pauline
Thompson, Paul A.
McDonald, David
Bishop, Dorothy V. M.
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Cambridge University Press
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Studies examining productive syntax have used varying elicitation methods and have tended to focus on either young children or adolescents/adults, so we lack an account of syntactic development throughout middle childhood. We describe here the results of an analysis of clause complexity in narratives produced by 354 speakers aged from 4 years to adulthood using the Expressive, Receptive and Recall of Narrative Instrument (ERRNI). We show that the number of clauses per utterance increased steadily through this age range. However the distribution of clause types depended on which of two stories was narrated, even though both stories were designed to have a similar story structure. In addition, clausal complexity was remarkably similar regardless of whether the speaker described a narrative from pictures, or whether the same narrative was recalled from memory. Finally, our findings with the youngest children showed that the task of generating a narrative from pictures may underestimate syntactic competence in those aged below 5 years.
Syntax , Clause , Language , Development , Narrative
Frizelle, P., Thompson, P. A., McDonald, D. and Bishop, D. V. M. (2017) 'Growth in syntactic complexity between 4 years and adulthood: evidence from a narrative task', Journal of Child Language, 45(5), pp. 1174-1197. doi: 10.1017/S0305000918000144
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