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Children's overregularization of English plurals: a quantitative analysis*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Gary F. Marcus
Affiliation:
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

This paper brings a quantitative study of children's noun plural overregularizations (foots, mans) to bear on recent comparisons of connectionist and symbolic models of language. The speech of 10 English-speaking children (aged 1;3 to 5;2) from the CHILDES database (MacWhinney & Snow, 1985, 1990) were analysed. The rate of noun overregularization is low, mean = 8·5%, demonstrating that children prefer correct to overregularized forms. Rates of noun overregularization are not significantly different from their rates of past tense overregularization, and noun plurals, like verb past tenses, follow a U-shaped developmental curve in which correct irregulars precede the first overregularized forms. These facts suggest that plural and past tense overregularizations are caused by similar underlying processes. The results pose challenges to connectionist models, but are consistent with Marcus et al.'s (1992) blocking-and-retrieval-failure model in which regulars are generated by a default rule while irregulars are retrieved from the lexicon.

Type
Notes and Discussion
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995

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Footnotes

[*]

I thank Steven Pinker, Fei Xu and two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft. This research was funded by an NDSE Graduate Fellowship to Marcus, NIH Grant HD 18381 to Steven Pinker (MIT), and grants from NIMH (training grant T32 MH18823) and the McDonnell-Pew Program in Cognitive Neuroscience to MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

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