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Overregularization in English plural and past tense inflectional morphology: a response to Marcus (1995)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 1997

VIRGINIA A. MARCHMAN
Affiliation:
University of Texas at Dallas
KIM PLUNKETT
Affiliation:
Oxford University
JUDITH GOODMAN
Affiliation:
University of Missouri, Columbia

Abstract

In a recent note, Marcus (1995) suggests that the rate of overregularization of English irregular plural nouns is not substantively different from that of English irregular past tense verbs. This finding is claimed to be in conflict with the predictions of connectionist models (Plunkett & Marchman, 1991, 1993) which are said to depend solely on the dominance of regular over irregular forms in determining overregulation errors. However, these conclusions may be premature given that Marcus averaged overregulation rates across irregular nominal forms that varied in token frequency and across samples representing a broad range of children's ages. A connectionist view would predict an interplay between type frequency and other item level factors, e.g. token frequency, as well as differences in the developmental trajectories of the acquisition of nouns and verbs. In this response, we briefly review longitudinal parental report data (N=26) which indicate that children are significantly more likely to produce noun overregularizations than verb overregularizations across a prescribed age period (1;5 to 2;6). At the same time, these data also show that children are familiar with proportionately more irregular nouns than irregular verbs. These findings are consistent with the predictions of Plunkett & Marchman (1991, 1993) in that the larger regular class affects the frequency of noun errors but also that familiarity with individual irregular nouns tends to reduce the likelihood of overregularizations. In contrast to the conclusion of Marcus (1995), the connectionist approach to English inflectional morphology provides a plausible explanation of the phenomenon of overregularization in both the English plural and past tense systems.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
1997 Cambridge University Press

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Footnotes

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (5 R29 DC 02292), the Economic and Social Research Council, UK, and the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation. The authors wish to thank Jennifer Jahn-Samilo for testing subjects and entering data, as well as the parents and children who participated.

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