Experience with morphosyntactic paradigms allows toddlers to tacitly anticipate overregularized verb forms months before they produce them

Megan Figueroa, Louann Gerken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

When do children acquire abstract grammatical categories? Studies of 2- to 3-year-olds' productions of complete morphosyntactic paradigms (e.g., all legal determiners with all nouns) suggest relatively later category acquisition, while studies of infant discrimination of grammatical vs. ungrammatical sequences suggest earlier acquisition. However, few of the latter studies have probed category generalization by examining how learners treat gaps in their input, and none have found evidence that learners before the age of 2 years fill gaps in VERB paradigms. Therefore, the three experiments presented here asked whether 16-month-olds tacitly expect to hear forms like breaked by presenting them with overregularized verbs vs. (1) nonce verbs + –ed, (2) real English nouns + –ed, and (3) the correct irregular counterparts. The pattern of listening preferences suggests that toddlers anticipate overregularized forms, suggesting that they have a general proto-category VERB, to which they expect the complete set of verb inflections to apply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103977
JournalCognition
Volume191
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

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paradigm
experience
infant
discrimination
Verb Forms
Paradigm
Toddlers
experiment
evidence
Verbs
Verb Inflection
Discrimination
Determiners
Grammatical Categories
English Nouns
Experiment
Irregular
Nouns

Keywords

  • Distributional analysis
  • English past tense
  • Grammatical categories
  • Language acquisition
  • Overregularization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

Cite this

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abstract = "When do children acquire abstract grammatical categories? Studies of 2- to 3-year-olds' productions of complete morphosyntactic paradigms (e.g., all legal determiners with all nouns) suggest relatively later category acquisition, while studies of infant discrimination of grammatical vs. ungrammatical sequences suggest earlier acquisition. However, few of the latter studies have probed category generalization by examining how learners treat gaps in their input, and none have found evidence that learners before the age of 2 years fill gaps in VERB paradigms. Therefore, the three experiments presented here asked whether 16-month-olds tacitly expect to hear forms like breaked by presenting them with overregularized verbs vs. (1) nonce verbs + –ed, (2) real English nouns + –ed, and (3) the correct irregular counterparts. The pattern of listening preferences suggests that toddlers anticipate overregularized forms, suggesting that they have a general proto-category VERB, to which they expect the complete set of verb inflections to apply.",
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