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The role of type and token frequency in using past tense morphemes correctly

Authors


Address for correspondence: Elena Nicoladis, University of Alberta, Department of Psychology, P217 Biological Sciences Building, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2E9, Canada; e-mail: elenan@ualberta.ca

Abstract

Type and token frequency have been thought to be important in the acquisition of past tense morphology, particularly in differentiating regular and irregular forms. In this study we tested the role of frequency in two ways: (1) in bilingual children, who typically use and hear either language less often than monolingual children and (2) cross-linguistically: French and English have different patterns of frequency of regular/irregular verbs. Ten French-English bilingual children, 10 French monolingual and 10 English monolingual children between 4 and 6 years watched a cartoon and re-told the story. The results demonstrated that the bilingual children were less accurate than the monolingual children. Their accuracy in both French and English regular and irregular verbs corresponded to frequency in the input language. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that children learn past tense morphemes by analogy with other words in their vocabularies. We propose a developmental sequence based on conservative generalization across a growing set of verbs.

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