The attention-grammar interface: Eye-gaze cues structural choice in children and adults

Paul Ibbotson, Elena V M Lieven, Michael Tomasello

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We investigated whether children (3- and 4-year-olds) and adults can use the active passive alternation - essentially a choice of subject - in a way that is consistent with the eye-gaze of the speaker. Previous work suggests the function of the subject position can be grounded in attentional mechanisms (Tomlin 1995, 1997). Eye-gaze is one powerful source of directing attention that we know adults and young children are sensitive to; furthermore, we know adults are more likely to look at the subject of their sentence than any other character (Gleitman et al. 2007; Griffin and Bock 2000). We demonstrate that older children and adults are able to use speaker-gaze to choose a felicitous subject when describing a scene with both agent-focused and patient focused cues. Integrating attentional and grammatical information in this way allows children to limit the degrees of freedom on what the function of certain linguistic constructions might be.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)457-481
    Number of pages24
    JournalCognitive Linguistics
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


    • Argument-structure constructions
    • Attention-grammar interface
    • Eye-gaze
    • Social cognition
    • Subject


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