Source: First Language 2016
Prepositional phrases (PPs) are considered an important feature of mature written expression. However, little is known about the development of PPs during the school years. The study examined the use of PPs in 160 narrative and expository texts, written by Hebrew-users in grades 4, 7, and 11, and adults. PPs were identified, counted, and classified according to their syntactic roles. Statistical analyses were carried out to probe the effects of age and genre on the overall prevalence of PPs, and the prevalence of each role. Results show that PPs become more prevalent and functionally more diversified with age: PP prevalence increased significantly after grade 7 in both genres, and continued to rise after grade 11 in expositories. Grade 4 PPs had a limited set of roles, the majority serving as arguments. In the older age groups the proportion of arguments decreased, concomitantly with an increase in the prevalence of other roles – most markedly verb-adjuncts and noun-modifiers – and the emergence of new PP roles.
In sum, PPs were studied as an aspect of later syntactic development in written Hebrew. Examining the use of PPs in context, we have shown that with age, schooling, and growing experience, Hebrew users learn to employ these constructions more frequently, as well as more flexibly, in ways specifically suited to the needs arising in different communicative contexts. The study provides evidence that syntactic abilities continue to evolve into late adolescence, well beyond the period targeted in traditional developmental research, demonstrating the benefits of a usage-based approach to understanding the nature of these later stages of language development.