What does syntax say about space? 2-year-olds use sentence structure to learn new prepositions

Cynthia Fisher, Stacy L. Klingler, Hyun joo Song

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Children as young as two use sentence structure to learn the meanings of verbs. We probed the generality of sensitivity to sentence structure by moving to a different semantic and syntactic domain, spatial prepositions. Twenty-six-month-olds used sentence structure to determine whether a new word was an object-category name (This is a corp!) or a spatial-relational term (This is acorp my box!). We argue that children rely on the intimate relationship between nouns in sentences and semantic arguments of predicate terms: Noting that a new word takes noun arguments identifies the new word as a predicate term, and directs the child's attention to relations among its arguments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)B19-B29
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006 Aug

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was partially funded by NIH grant HD44458, and by the Research Board of the University of Illinois. We thank Renée Baillargeon, Jennifer Cole, Yael Gertner, and Sylvia Yuan for helpful comments.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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