Structural Priming as Structure-Mapping: Children Use Analogies From Previous Utterances to Guide Sentence Production


should be sent to Micah B. Goldwater, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, 2029 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208. E-mail:


What mechanisms underlie children’s language production? Structural priming—the repetition of sentence structure across utterances—is an important measure of the developing production system. We propose its mechanism in children is the same as may underlie analogical reasoning: structure-mapping. Under this view, structural priming is the result of making an analogy between utterances, such that children map semantic and syntactic structure from previous to future utterances. Because the ability to map relationally complex structures develops with age, younger children are less successful than older children at mapping both semantic and syntactic relations. Consistent with this account, 4-year-old children showed priming only of semantic relations when surface similarity across utterances was limited, whereas 5-year-olds showed priming of both semantic and syntactic structure regardless of shared surface similarity. The priming of semantic structure without syntactic structure is uniquely predicted by the structure-mapping account because others have interpreted structural priming as a reflection of developing syntactic knowledge.