Semantics of the Transitive Construction: Prototype Effects and Developmental Comparisons
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012
Copyright © 2012 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 36, Issue 7, pages 1268–1288, September/October 2012
How to Cite
Ibbotson, P., Theakston, A. L., Lieven, E. V. M. and Tomasello, M. (2012), Semantics of the Transitive Construction: Prototype Effects and Developmental Comparisons. Cognitive Science, 36: 1268–1288. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2012.01249.x
- Issue published online: 5 SEP 2012
- Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012
- Received 20 December 2010; received in revised form 4 November 2011; accepted 12 December 2011
This paper investigates whether an abstract linguistic construction shows the kind of prototype effects characteristic of non-linguistic categories, in both adults and young children. Adapting the prototype-plus-distortion methodology of Franks and Bransford (1971), we found that whereas adults were lured toward false-positive recognition of sentences with prototypical transitive semantics, young children showed no such effect. We examined two main implications of the results. First, it adds a novel data point to a growing body of research in cognitive linguistics and construction grammar that shows abstract linguistic categories can behave in similar ways to non-linguistic categories, for example, by showing graded membership of a category. Thus, the findings lend psychological validity to the existing cross-linguistic evidence for prototypical transitive semantics. Second, we discuss a possible explanation for the fact that prototypical sentences were processed differently in adults and children, namely, that children’s transitive semantic network is not as interconnected or cognitively coherent as adults’.