You can take a noun out of syntax...: Syntactic similarity effects in lexical priming


Usage-based theories of syntax predict that words and syntactic constructions are probabilistically interconnected. If this is true, then words that occur in similar distributions of syntactic constructions should prime each other. These effects should be fine-grained; even small differences between the syntactic distributions of pairs of words of the same grammatical category should cause variation in priming. Prior research from production suggests that this prediction should hold even in tasks without any syntactic requirement. In this study, we introduce a measure of the similarity between the syntactic contexts in which two nouns occur. We show that this similarity measure significantly predicts visual lexical decision priming magnitudes between pairs of nouns. This finding is consistent with the predictions of usage-based theories where fine-grained similarity of syntactic usages between prime-target pairs affects decision latencies, over and above any effects attributable to semantic similarity.

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