Phonological Constraints on Children’s Production of English Third Person Singular –s Purpose: Children variably produce grammatical morphemes at early stages of development, often omitting inflectional morphemes in obligatory contexts. This has typically been attributed to immature syntactic or semantic representations. In this study, the authors investigated the hypothesis that children’s variable production of the 3rd person singular morpheme –s interacts ... Article
Article  |   June 2009
Phonological Constraints on Children’s Production of English Third Person Singular –s
 
Author Notes
  • Contact author: Jae Yung Song, Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University, Box 1978, Providence, RI 02912. E-mail: Jae_Yung_Song@brown.edu.
  • © 2009 American Speech-Language-Hearing AssociationAmerican Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosody / Language
Article   |   June 2009
Phonological Constraints on Children’s Production of English Third Person Singular –s
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 2009, Vol. 52, 623-642. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0258)
History: Received November 20, 2007 , Revised March 12, 2008 , Accepted October 7, 2008
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 2009, Vol. 52, 623-642. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0258)
History: Received November 20, 2007; Revised March 12, 2008; Accepted October 7, 2008
Web of Science® Times Cited: 27

Purpose: Children variably produce grammatical morphemes at early stages of development, often omitting inflectional morphemes in obligatory contexts. This has typically been attributed to immature syntactic or semantic representations. In this study, the authors investigated the hypothesis that children’s variable production of the 3rd person singular morpheme –s interacts with the phonological complexity of the verb stem to which it is attached.

Method: To explore this possibility, the authors examined longitudinal data from the spontaneous speech of 6 English-speaking children between ages 1;3 and 3;6 (years;months) and elicited imitations from a cross-sectional study of 23 two-year-olds (mean age of 2;2).

Results: The results showed that children produced third person singular morphemes more accurately in phonologically simple coda contexts (e.g., sees) as compared with complex coda contexts (e.g., needs). In addition, children produced –s more accurately in utterance-final position as compared with utterance-medial position.

Conclusions: The results provide strong support for the role of phonological complexity in explaining some of the variability in children’s production of third person singular –s. This finding suggests that future research will need to consider multiple factors, including phonological and positional effects, in constructing a comprehensive developmental theory of both grammatical competence and processes of speech planning and production.

Acknowledgments
This work was supported, in part, by National Institutes of Health Grants R01MH60922 and R01HD057606 and National Science Foundation Grant 0354453. Parts of this article were presented at the 10th International Association for the Study of Child Language in Berlin, July 28, 2005. We thank that audience as well as Mark Johnson, Cecilia Kirk, Claartje Levelt, Chloe Marshall, James Morgan, and Susan Rvachew for assistance, helpful comments, and suggestions. Many thanks also to members of the Child Language Lab at Brown University and the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington (especially Hillary Fix, Denise Padden, Kathryn Schoolcraft, and Robert Shields). Finally, we would like to thank the parents and children who participated in this research.
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