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The ability to process plural marking of nouns is acquired early: at a very young age, children are able to understand if a noun represents one item or more than one. However, little is known about how the segmental characteristics of plural marking are used in this process. Using eye-tracking, we aim at understanding how five to twelve-year old children use the phonetic, phonological, and morphological information available to process noun plural marking in German (i.e., a very complex system) compared to adults. We expected differences with stem vowels, stem-final consonants or different suffixes, alone or in combination, reflecting different processing of their segmental information. Our results show that for plural processing: 1) a suffix is the most helpful cue, an umlaut the least helpful, and voicing does not play a role; 2) one cue can be sufficient and 3) school-age children have not reached adult-like processing of plural marking.
Studies have challenged the assumption that different types of word-final s in English are homophonous. On the one hand, affixal (e.g. laps) and non-affixal s (e.g. lapse) differ in their duration; on the other hand, variation exists across several types of affixal s (e.g. between the plural (cars) and genitive plural (cars’)). This line of research was recently expanded in a study in which an interesting side effect appeared: the s was longer if followed by a past tense verb (e.g. The pods/odds eventually dropped), in comparison to a following present tense verb (e.g. The old screens/jeans obviously need replacing.). Put differently, the s became longer in the absence of overt morphosyntactic agreement, where it was mostly the sole plurality marker in the sentence. The objective of the present article is to examine whether this effect can be replicated in a more controlled setting. Having considered a large number of potential confounding variables in a reading experiment, we found an effect in the expected direction, one that is compatible with the literature on the impact that predictability has on duration. We interpret this finding against the background of the role of fine acoustic detail in language.
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