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The acquisition of the Tagalog symmetrical voice system: evidence from structural priming

journal contribution
posted on 02.12.2020, 01:37 by R Garcia, Evan Kidd
© 2020 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. We report on two experiments that investigated the acquisition of the Tagalog symmetrical voice system, a typologically rare feature of Western Austronesian languages in which there are more than one basic transitive construction and no preference for agents to be syntactic subjects. In the experiments, 3-, 5-, and 7-year-old Tagalog-speaking children and adults completed a structural priming task that manipulated voice and word order, with the uniqueness of Tagalog allowing us to tease apart priming of thematic role order from that of syntactic roles. Participants heard a description of a picture showing a transitive action, and were then asked to complete a sentence of an unrelated picture using a voice-marked verb provided by the experimenter. Our results show that children gradually acquire an agent-before-patient preference, instead of having a default mapping of the agent to the first noun position. We also found an earlier mastery of the patient voice verbal and nominal marker configuration (patient is the subject), suggesting that children do not initially map the agent to the subject. Children were primed by thematic role but not syntactic role order, suggesting that they prioritize mapping of the thematic roles to sentence positions.


Publication Date



Language Learning and Development






27p. (p. 399-425)





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