Children's Expressive and Receptive Knowledge of the English Regular Plural

AbstractWe investigate the development of children's early grammatical knowledge using the test case of the English regular plural. Previous research points to early generalization, with children applying an abstract morphological rule to produce novel plurals well before 24 months. At the same time, children use the plural inconsistently with familiar object words, and demonstrate limited receptive knowledge of the plural in the absence of supporting linguistic features. In the first study to test knowledge of the plural within participants, we conduct two experiments with n = 52 24-36-month-olds: an eyetracking task to evaluate what they understand, and a storybook task to test how they use the plural. We manipulate both novelty (novel vs. familiar object words) and phonological form (/s/ vs. /z/ plurals). We find strong, age-related evidence of productive knowledge of the plural in an expressive task, but do not find evidence of receptive knowledge in these same children.

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