Valian, V. (1986). Syntactic Categories in the Speech of Young Children. Developmental Psychology, 22, 562-579.

Abstract: Examined speech samples from 6 children (aged 2 yrs to 2 yrs 5 mo), with mean lengths of utterance (MLUs) ranging from 2.93 to 4.14, for evidence of 6 syntactic categories: determiner, adjective, noun, noun phrase, preposition, and prepositional phrase. Results indicate that all the Ss showed evidence of all categories, except for the lowest MLU S, whose performance was borderline on adjectives and prepositional phrases. It is suggested that children are sensitive early in life to abstract, formal properties of the speech they hear and must be credited with syntactic knowledge at an earlier point than heretofore generally thought. Results argue against various semantic hypotheses about the origin of syntactic knowledge. It is concluded that the methods and results may be applicable to future investigations of why children’s early utterances are short, the nature of children’s semantic categories, and the nature of the deviance in the speech of language-deviant children and adults.