This paper reviews the developmental literature on grammatical knowledge in language comprehension in the preschool years from the perspective of sensitivity to structural contrasts. This concept differs from mastery of individual grammatical structures. Structural sensitivity focuses on increments of partial grammatical knowledge that can be observed in distinctive response patterns to contrasting grammatical structures. Direct evidence of sensitivity to structural contrasts is found in comprehension studies that measured differential responding. Indirect evidence of sensitivity can also be discovered by detailed examination of the data presented in several additional studies. The evidence suggests that there may be a developmental sequence of increasing sensitivity with age to finer distinctions and to more detailed aspects of grammatical structure. The notion of sensitivity to structural contrasts has implications for future research.
KEY WORDS: children's language comprehension, structural contrasts, grammar
Submitted on July 20, 1995
Accepted on June 14, 1996