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Production and processing of tense morphology in English successive bilingual children

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  • UserVicky Chondrogianni, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading
  • ClockTuesday 18 November 2008, 16:00-17:30
  • HouseGR-06/07, English Faculty Building.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Susan Rolfe.

Inflectional morphology is a notoriously vulnerable area in (adult) L2 acquisition. Problems in morphological realization have been attributed by current L2 acquisition theories either to output problems related to the overt realization of the grammatical morphemes (Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis, Haznedar & Schwartz, 1997; Lardiere, 1998, 2008; Prevost & White, 2000) or to deficiencies of the underlying syntactic representations (Failed Functional Features Hypothesis, Hawkins & Chan, 1997; Tsimpli, 2003).

To date most studies addressing the issue of L2 morphological competence have primarily focused on production data by adult L2 learners. Little research on child L2 acquisition has shown that L2 children do have problems with the overt realization of grammatical morphemes (Haznedar, 2001; Ionin & Wexler, 2002; Paradis, 2005), with ultimate target-like performance not always being possible (Blom & Polišenška, 2006). Studies on off-line comprehension and on-line processing have shown that L2 children are capable of comprehending a morpheme, when this is also overtly realized in production (Grüter, 2005) and of processing L2 morphemes in the same way as L1 children (Marinis, 2007).

The current paper presents preliminary findings from a production and a processing task targeting tense morphemes in English by child L2 learners. Twenty one 6-to-8 year-old Turkish-English successive bilingual children and thirty four monolingual controls matched on age and socio-economic status were assessed on production with the Test of Early Grammatical Impairment TEGI by Rice & Wexler (2001) that elicits 3rd person singular –s, regular and irregular past tense. Children’s processing of tense morphology was examined via a word-monitoring task targeting children’s sensitivity to grammatical and ungrammatical sentences containing 3rd person singular –s, past tense –ed and progressive –ing.

Results from the production task showed that overall L2 children were significantly less accurate than controls in both past tense (L2=86%, L1=94%) and 3rd person singular –s (L2=76%, L1=93%). In the past tense, an effect for regularity was found with L2 children being significantly less accurate than L1 children in both regular (L2=90%, L1=96%) and irregular (L2=22%, L1=86%) verbs, and showing significantly more instances of overregularisations (L2=70%, L1=35%). Despite the lower accuracy of the L2 children on the production task, results from the on line task revealed that both L1 and L2 children were good at detecting the ungrammaticality in the case of morpheme omission, exhibiting slower reaction times in the ungrammatical than the grammatical conditions (L1: –s 418ms vs. 477ms, -ed 473ms vs. 495ms, -ing 498ms vs. 548ms; L2: –s 620ms vs. 761ms, -ed 653ms vs. 737ms, -ing 743ms vs. 890ms). These results suggest that despite output problems, L2 children are capable of processing grammatical morphemes in real time.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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