Phonological Licensing of Grammatical Morphology in Early Speech


November 16, 2006


Katherine Demuth


Brown University


Researchers of child language have typically assumed that the acquisition of grammatical morphemes provides evidence of syntactic competence. However, experimental research by Gerken (1996) and colleagues suggests that the variable appearance of some grammatical morphemes may be conditioned by phonological factors. This talk reviews some of our recent corpus research on English and French, showing that 2-year-olds are much more likely to produce grammatical morphemes such as determiners and 3rd person singular -s in prosodically ‘unmarked’ contexts. These findings suggest that some of the language-internal and crosslinguistic variability found in morpheme production is systematic and predictable. This suggests that young language learners may exhibit earlier syntactic competence that typically assumed.


Katherine Demuth

Katherine Demuth is Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Science at Brown University. Demuth’s research focuses on how children learn language. She is particularly interested in the biological and environmental contributions to language learning. Much of her research has involved the crosslinguistic study of children’s language development (English, Spanish, French, Sesotho), especially in the areas of phonology, morphology and syntax. Other research begins to explore the connections between early perception and production. She is currently on sabbatical at I-LABS (Institute for Learning and Brain Science) at UW, learning more about language and the brain.