Syntactic priming in illiterate and literate older Chinese adults

Hu, Y., Lv, Q., Pascual, E., Liang, J., & Huettig, F. (2021). Syntactic priming in illiterate and literate older Chinese adults. Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science, 5, 267-286. doi:10.1007/s41809-021-00082-9.
Does life-long literacy experience modulate syntactic priming in spoken language processing? Such a postulated influence is compatible with usage-based theories of language processing that propose that all linguistic skills are a function of accumulated experience with language across life. Here we investigated the effect of literacy experience on syntactic priming in Mandarin in sixty Chinese older adults from Hebei province. Thirty participants were completely illiterate and thirty were literate Mandarin speakers of similar age and socioeconomic background. We first observed usage differences: literates produced robustly more prepositional object (PO) constructions than illiterates. This replicates, with a different sample, language, and cultural background, previous findings that literacy experience affects (baseline) usage of PO and DO transitive alternates. We also observed robust syntactic priming for double-object (DO), but not prepositional-object (PO) dative alternations for both groups. The magnitude of this DO priming however was higher in literates than in illiterates. We also observed that cumulative adaptation in syntactic priming differed as a function of literacy. Cumulative syntactic priming in literates appears to be related mostly to comprehending others, whereas in illiterates it is also associated with repeating self-productions. Further research is needed to confirm this interpretation.
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