Daniela Avila Varela, Natalia Arias-Trejo, and Nivedita Mani (2021)

A longitudinal study of the role of vocabulary size on priming effects in early childhood

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 205:105071.

Studies on lexical development in young children often suggest that the organisation of the early lexicon may vary with age and increasing vocabulary size. In the current study, we explicitly examine this suggestion in further detail using a longitudinal study of the development of phonological and semantic priming effects in the same group of toddlers at three different ages. In particular, our longitudinal design allows us to disentangle effects of increasing age and vocabulary size on priming and the extent to which vocabulary size may predict later priming effects. We tested phonological and semantic priming effects in monolingual German infants at 18-, 21- and 24-month-olds. We used the intermodal preferential looking paradigm combined with eye tracking to measure the influence of phonologically and semantic related/unrelated primes on target recognition. We found that phonological priming effects were predicted by participants’ current vocabulary size, even after controlling for participants’ age and participants’ early vocabulary size. Semantic priming effects were, in contrast, not predicted by vocabulary size. Finally, we also found a relationship between early phonological priming effects and later semantic priming effects, as well as between early semantic priming effects and later phonological priming effects, potentially suggesting (limited) consistency in lexical structure across development. Taken together, these results highlight the important role of vocabulary size in the development of priming effects in early childhood.