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The information in third-person /s/: acquisition across dialects of American English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2007


JILL G. DE VILLIERS
Affiliation:
Smith College and
VALERIE E. JOHNSON
Affiliation:
Montclair State University

Abstract

The production of third-person /s/ on English verbs seems to be ahead of comprehension. Mainstream American English (MAE) is contrasted with African American English (AAE), in which /s/ is rarely supplied. Two studies explored what information children get solely from /s/ on the end of a verb. Sixty-five MAE- and 65 AAE-speaking four- to seven-year-olds participated in one of two experimental picture-choice comprehension studies. Neither group of four-year-olds could use the /s/ to determine if the event was generic rather than past tense on a verb (e.g. cuts/cut), or whether it was a verb or a noun compound as in The penguin dresses/The penguin dress. MAE-speakers do not use the information in third-person /s/ alone until age five, and not reliably until age six years. In keeping with AAE production, AAE-speaking children do not use the information in /s/ at all in this age range.


Type
Research Article
Copyright
2007 Cambridge University Press

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Footnotes

Many thanks are due to the people who helped on this project. We are very grateful to Barbara Pearson, who organized much of the testing and data entry, the graduate students in Communication Disorders who assisted, and to Paul Speckels, who drew brilliant pictures for Study 2. We would also like to thank audiences at the Boston University Language Development conference and to the U.Mass./U.Conn./Smith workshop for their invaluable feedback on earlier versions. This work was partly supported by NIH NIDCD Contract #N01 DC 8-2104 to Harry Seymour, Thomas Roeper and Jill G. de Villiers.

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