No AccessJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing ResearchResearch Article1 Aug 2012

Sequence and System in the Acquisition of Tense and Agreement

    Purpose

    The relatedness of tense morphemes in the language of children younger than 3 years of age is a matter of controversy. Generativist accounts predict that the morphemes will be related, whereas usage-based accounts predict the absence of relationships. This study focused on the increasing productivity of the 5 morphemes in the tense productivity score (copula BE, third-person singular present –3s, past –ed, auxiliary DO, auxiliary BE; Hadley & Short, 2005) and their relationship to one another.

    Method

    Twenty typically developing children were observed longitudinally from 21 to 33 months of age. One hour of naturalistic caregiver–child interaction sampled every 3 months was analyzed.

    Results

    Copula BE was more productive than all other morphemes from age 27 months onward. Auxiliary BE was significantly less productive than –3s,ed, and DO from age 27 months onward. Evaluation of third-person singular tense morphemes at age 33 months revealed that the productivity scores of copula is,3s, and does were all correlated.

    Conclusions

    There is sequence and simultaneity in development that no prior framework has fully explained, as well as evidence of cross-morpheme relationships. In this article, the authors interpret these findings as support for the gradual morphosyntactic learning hypothesis (Rispoli & Hadley, 2011; Rispoli, Hadley, & Holt, 2009).

    References

    • Benjamini, Y., & Hochberg, Y. (1995). Controlling the false discovery rate: A practical and powerful approach to multiple testing.Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series B, 57, 289–300.
    • Blom, E., & Wijnen, F. (2006). Development need not be embarrassing: The demise of the root infinitive and related changes in Dutch child language. Retrieved from http://home.hum.uva.nl/variflex/BlomWijnen_LI_OIpaper_oct2006.pdf
    • Bloom, L., Lifter, K., & Hafitz, J. (1980). Semantics of verbs and the development of verb inflection in child language.Language, 56, 386–412.
    • Bock, J. K. (1982). Toward a cognitive psychology of syntax: Information processing contributions to sentence formulation.Psychological Review, 89, 1–47.
    • Bock, J. K., & Levelt, W. (1994). Language production: Grammatical encoding.In M. Gersenbacher (Ed.), Handbook of psycholinguistics (pp. 945–984). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
    • Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    • Bybee, J. (2006). From usage to grammar: The mind’s response to repetition.Language, 82, 711–733.
    • Caprin, C., & Guasti, M. (2009). The acquisition of morphosyntax in Italian: A cross-sectional study.Applied Psycholinguistics, 30, 23–52.
    • Cook, V., & Newson, M. (2007). Chomsky’s universal grammar: An introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
    • DeVilliers, J., & DeVilliers, P. (1973). A cross-sectional study of the acquisition of grammatical morphemes in child speech.Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 2, 267–278.
    • Dunn, O. J. (1961). Multiple comparisons among means.Journal of the American Statistical Association, 56, 52–64.
    • Faroqi-Shah, Y., & Thompson, C. (2004). Semantic, lexical, and phonological influences on the production of verb inflections in agrammatic aphasia.Brain and Language, 89, 484–498.
    • Fenson, L., Dale, P., Reznick, J., Thal, D., Bates, E., Hartung, J., & Reilly, J. (1993). MacArthur Communicative Developmental Inventories. San Diego, CA: Singular.
    • Gerkin, L., & McIntosh, B. (1993). The interplay of function morphemes and prosody in early language.Developmental Psychology, 29, 448–457.
    • Hadley, P., & Holt, J. (2006). Individual differences in the onset of tense marking: A growth curve analysis.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 984–1000.
    • Hadley, P., Rispoli, M., Fitzgerald, C., & Bahnsen, A. (2011). Predictors of morphosyntactic growth in typically developing toddlers: Contributions of parent input and child sex.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54, 549–566.
    • Hadley, P., & Short, H. (2005). The onset of tense marking in children at-risk for SLI.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 48, 1344–1362.
    • Hochberg, Y. (1988). A sharper Bonferroni procedure for multiple tests of significance.Biometrika, 75, 800–803.
    • Holm, S. (1979). A simple sequentially rejective multiple test procedures.Scandinavian Journal of Statistics, 6, 65–70.
    • Ionin, T., & Wexler, K. (2002). Why is ‘is’ easier than ‘-s’?: Acquisition of tense/agreement morphology by child second language learners of English.Second Language Research, 18, 95–136.
    • Lapointe, S., & Dell, G. (1989). A synthesis of some recent work in sentence production.In G. Carlson, & M. Tannehaus (Eds.), Linguistic structure in language processing (pp. 107–156). Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer.
    • Legate, J., & Yang, C. (2007). Morphosyntactic learning and the development of tense.Language Acquisition, 14, 315–344.
    • Leonard, L., Camarata, S., Brown, B., & Camarata, M. (2004). Tense and agreement in the speech of children with specific language impairment: Patterns of generalization through intervention.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 1363–1379.
    • Leonard, L., Camarata, S., Pawlowska, M., Brown, B., & Camarata, M. (2006). Tense and agreement in the speech of children with specific language impairment during intervention: Phase 2.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 749–770.
    • Loeb, D., & Leonard, L. (1991). Subject case marking and verb morphology in normally developing and specifically language impaired children.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 34, 340–346.
    • Miller, J., & Chapman, R. (1981). The relation between age and mean length of utterance in morphemes.Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 24, 154–161.
    • Miller, J., & Chapman, R. (2000). Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts (Research Version 6.1a) [Computer software].Madison, MI: University of Wisconsin.
    • Moerk, E. (1980). Relationships between parental input frequencies and children’s language acquisition: A reanalysis of Brown’s data.Journal of Child Language, 7, 105–118.
    • Pelham, S. (2011). The input ambiguity hypothesis and case blindness: An account of cross-linguistic and intra-linguistic differences in case errors.Journal of Child Language, 38, 235–272.
    • Pine, J., Conti–Ramsden, G., Joseph, K., Lieven, E., & Serratrice, L. (2008). Tense over time: Testing the agreement/tense omission model as an account of the pattern of tense-marking provision in early child English.Journal of Child Language, 35, 55–75.
    • Pinker, S. (1984). Language learnability and language development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    • Pollock, J. Y. (1989). Verb movement, universal grammar, and the structure of IP.Linguistic Inquiry, 20, 365–424.
    • Radford, A. (1990). Syntactic theory and the acquisition of English syntax. Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell.
    • Rice, M., Wexler, K., & Hershberger, S. (1998). Tense over time: The longitudinal course of tense acquisition in children with specific language impairment.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 41, 1412–1431.
    • Rispoli, M. (1995). Missing arguments and the acquisition of predicate meanings.In M. Tomasello, & W. Merriman (Eds.), Beyond names for things (pp. 331–354). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    • Rispoli, M. (2003). Changes in the nature of sentence production during the period of grammatical development.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 818–830.
    • Rispoli, M. (2005). When children reach beyond their grasp: Why some children make pronoun case errors and others don’t.Journal of Child Language, 32, 93–116.
    • Rispoli, M., & Hadley, P. (2011). Toward a theory of gradual morphosyntactic learning.In I. Arnon, & E. Clark (Eds.), Experience, variation and generalization: Learning a first language (pp. 15–33). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins.
    • Rispoli, M., Hadley, P., & Holt, J. (2008). Stalls and revisions: A developmental perspective on sentence production.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 51, 967–982.
    • Rispoli, M., Hadley, P., & Holt, J. (2009). The growth of tense productivity.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 52, 930–944.
    • Santelmann, L., & Jusczyk, P. (1998). Sensitivity to discontinuous dependencies in language learners: Evidence for limitations in processing space.Cognition, 69, 105–134.
    • Schütze, C., & Wexler, K. (1996). Subject case licensing and English root infinitives.Proceedings of the Boston University Conference on Language Development, 20, 670–681.
    • Sprent, P., & Smeeton, N. (2001). Applied nonparametric statistical methods. Boca Raton, FL: Chapman & Hall/CRC.
    • Sundara, M., Demuth, K., & Kuhl, P. (2011). Sentence-position effects on children’s perceptions and production of English third person singular –s.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54, 55–71.
    • Suzuki, T. (2000). Multiple factors in morphological case-marking errors.Studies in Language Sciences, 1, 123–134.
    • Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    • Trapp, W., Holt, J., Hadley, P., & Rispoli, M. (2007, October). Checkerboard graphical displays for longitudinal, multivariate data. Paper presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Mid-Western Educational Research Association, St. Louis, MO.
    • Wexler, K. (1998). Very early parameter setting and the unique checking constraint: A new explanation of the optional infinitive stage.Lingua, 106, 23–79.
    • Wexler, K. (2003). Lenneberg’s dream: Learning, normal language development and specific language impairment.In Y. Levy, & J. Schaeffer (Eds.), Language competence across populations: Towards a definition of specific language impairment (pp. 11–61). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
    • Wilson, S. (2003). Lexically specific constructions in the acquisition of inflection in English.Journal of Child Language, 30, 75–115.
    • Yang, C. (2002). Knowledge and learning in natural language. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
    • Yang, C. (2004). Universal grammar, statistics, or both?.Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 451–456.

    Additional Resources