Sensitivity of Children's Inflection to Grammatical Structure

John J. Kim, Gary F. Marcus, Steven Pinker, Michelle Hollander, Marie Coppola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What is the input to the mental system that computes inflected forms like walked, came, dogs y and men? ? Recent connectionist models feed a word's phonological features into a single network, allowing it to generalize both regular and irregular phonological patterns, like stop-stopped, step-stepped and fling-flung, cling-clung. But for adults, phonological input is insufficient: verbs derived from nouns like ring the city always have regular past tense forms {ringed), even if they are phonologically identical to irregular verbs {ring the bell). Similarly, nouns based on names, like two Mickey Mouses, and compounds based on possessing rather than being their root morpheme, such as two saber-tooths, take regular plurals, even when they are homophonous with irregular nouns like mice and teeth. In four experiments, testing 70 three- to ten-year-old children, we found that children are sensitive to such nonphonological information: they were more likely to produce regular inflected forms for forms like to ring (‘to put a ring on’) and snaggletooth (a kind of animal doll with big teeth) than for their homophonous irregular counterparts, even when these counterparts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-209
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of child language
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • General Psychology


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