Syntactic Categorization in French-Learning Infants


should be sent to Rushen Shi, Département de Psychologie, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, QC, Canada H3C 3P8. E-mail:


Recent work showed that infants recognize and store function words starting from the age of 6–8 months. Using a visual fixation procedure, the present study tested whether French-learning 14-month-olds have the knowledge of syntactic categories of determiners and pronouns, respectively, and whether they can use these function words for categorizing novel words to nouns and verbs. The prosodic characteristics of novel words stimuli for noun versus verb uses were balanced. The only distinguishing cue was the preceding determiners versus subject pronouns, the former being the most common for nouns and the latter the most common for verbs, i.e., Det + Noun, Pron + Verb. We expected that noun categorization may be easier than verb categorization because the co-occurrence of determiners with nouns is more consistent than that of subject pronouns with verbs in French. The results showed that infants grouped the individual determiners as one common class, and that they appeared to use the determiners to categorize novel words into nouns. However, we found no evidence of verb categorization. Unlike determiners, pronouns were not perceived as a common syntactic class.