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

Sequence and System in the Acquisition of Tense and Agreement


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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).


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