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Title: Disentangling the different factors that contribute to the production of 3rd person singular errors in Spanish
Author: Martin, Joseph
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2019
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The objective of this thesis is to explain a type of error that is commonly observed in the speech of children in a number of languages – the tendency to frequently deploy a particular person-number form of a verb in contexts where another form is appropriate, a pattern that has been referred to as “defaulting”. In particular we focus on the tendency of Spanish-learning children to “default” to the third person singular (3sg) form of verbs. For example, a child speaking Spanish frequently produces the 3sg form -a when the 3rd person plural (3pl) form -an is the target. We seek to understand what factors – e.g. the frequency with which the different forms occur, the way the different forms sound (phonology) or what the different forms mean (semantics) – cause children to produce this error. In particular we test an existing proposal that defaulting is the result of the relative frequency of the form in question. We employ a novel training study approach designed to establish a causal link between linguistic experience and language development and disentangle different explanatory factors. This thesis begins with an overview of the previous literature, establishing the role that frequency, phonology and semantics play in morphological development. Chapter 3 investigates how much of an effect frequency has on the acquisition of present tense Spanish inflections by manipulating the input frequency in English-speaking monolingual adults (Experiment 1: Mean age - 19;4, Range - 18;3-25;1 – Experiment 2: Mean age – 19;6, Range – 18:3-24;8). Chapter 4 explores the role of phonology and semantics in the acquisition of the semantic 3sg form and the phonological -a form, by permuting forms across meanings using a sample of English-speaking monolingual adults (Mean age – 20;6 – Range – 18:4-35;2) . Chapter 5 explores the role of frequency in the acquisition of Spanish inflections using the same methodology as Chapter 3 but using an monolingual sample of English-speaking children (Experiment 4: Mean age – 9;2 - Range – 8;4-10;4 – Experiment 5: Mean age – 9;4 – Range – 8;4-10;8). Chapter 6 aims to improve on the methodology from Chapter 3 by introducing a physical “teacher” that the child can interact with. Again we tested monolingual English-speaking children (Experiment 6: Mean age – 9;4 –Range – 8:1-10:7 – Experiment 7: Mean age– 9;4 – Range – 8;1-10;1). iv The results from these studies demonstrate that, while input frequency does affect the production of the 3sg form, its contribution differs from that previously proposed. We propose that the defaulting that has been found previously is at least partially a product of phonology and semantics. While input frequency does result in an overall increase in rate of 3sg production, it also contributes to increased overall performance (including on other forms) and in some cases, contrary to prior proposals, reduces rather than increases the rate of 3sg errors.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral