Young children's comprehension of English SVO word order revisited: Testing the same children in act-out and intermodal preferential looking tasks

Wing Shan Angel Chan, Kerstin Meints, Elena Lieven, Michael Tomasello

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Act-out and intermodal preferential looking (IPL) tasks were administered to 67 English children aged 2-0, 2-9 and 3-5 to assess their comprehension of canonical SVO transitive word order with both familiar and novel verbs. Children at 3-5 and at 2-9 showed evidence of comprehending word order in both verb conditions and both tasks, although children at 2-9 performed better with familiar than with novel verbs in the act-out task. Children at 2-0 showed no evidence of comprehending word order in either task with novel verbs; with familiar verbs they showed competence in the IPL task but not in the act-out task. The difference in performance for familiar and novel verbs from the same children at 2-0, on the IPL task, and at 2-9, on the act-out task, is consistent with the hypothesis that early linguistic/cognitive representations are graded in strength, with early representations still weak and very task dependent. However, these representations also become more abstract with development, as indicated by the familiarity effect even in the more sensitive IPL task.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-45
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • Act-out
  • Early linguistic/cognitive representations
  • Intermodal preferential looking
  • Word order comprehension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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