Testing hypotheses on frequency effects in first language acquisition: noun plural inflection in Danish children

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Abstract

On the basis of extensive literature studies, Ambridge, Kidd, Rowland and Theakston (2015) present five theses on frequency effects on language acquisition: i) the Levels and Kinds Thesis argues that frequency effects exist at all levels and are of many different kinds (e.g., type and token frequency effects as well as absolute and relative frequency effects); ii) the Age of Acquisition Thesis argues that all other things being equal, frequent forms will be acquired before less frequent forms. Since all other things are not equal, this claim does not entail a one-to-one relationship between frequency and age of acquisition; iii) the Prevent Error Thesis argues that high-frequency forms prevent (or reduce) errors in contexts in which they are the target; iv) the Cause Error Thesis argues that high-frequency forms also cause errors in contexts in which a competing, related lower-frequency form is the target; and v) the Interaction Thesis argues that frequency effects will interact with other effects. The acquisition of the Danish noun plural system is particularly interesting in this regard. The reason is that whereas English is characterized by having one default inflectional marker for a grammatical category (e.g., the plural suffix -s) and a minor number of exceptions to this default rule, Danish has several competing inflectional markers. Furthermore, there are important interactions between phonology and morphology in the Danish system (Kjærbæk, dePont Christensen, & Basbøll, 2014). In this study we will test the theses in a phonological perspective and explore the impact of phonetics on grammar. This we will do in three types of empirical data from children acquiring Danish as their first language: i) Naturalistic data consisting of spontaneous child language input and output from six children between the ages of 0;10-3;11, and their parents; ii) Semi-naturalistic data from structured interviews with 80 children between the ages of 3-9 years; iii) Experimental data from a picture based elicitation task with 160 children between the ages of 3-10 years. We present a scale with three degrees of transparency of the plural stem and of the plural suffix as well as a scale with six degrees of transparency of the Danish plural markers. We furthermore present a scale with three degrees of productivity. Productivity is here defined as the ability of an inflectional marker to occur on new words. For the plural system this means the ability to add the plural marker (stem change + suffix) to a new noun in order to form a new plural noun. We analyze the relation between acquisition rate and degree of transparency as well as degree of productivity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the International Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech
EditorsElena Babatsouli, David Ingram
PublisherInstitute of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech
Publication date31. Dec 2015
Pages168-181
ISBN (Electronic)978-618-82351-0-6
Publication statusPublished - 31. Dec 2015
EventInternational Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech - Chania, Greece
Duration: 7. Sep 201510. Sep 2015

Conference

ConferenceInternational Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech
CountryGreece
CityChania
Period07/09/201510/09/2015

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Kjærbæk, L., & Basbøll, H. (2015). Testing hypotheses on frequency effects in first language acquisition: noun plural inflection in Danish children. In E. Babatsouli, & D. Ingram (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech (pp. 168-181). Institute of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech.