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Title: Testing generativist and constructivist accounts of morphological development using complex noun morphology
Author: Savičiūtė, Eglė
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2020
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How children learn grammar has been one of the most long-standing questions in cognitive psychology. After decades of both naturalistic and experimental child language study, two dominant approaches have emerged: generativist and constructivist. The generativist approach argues children reach adult-like productivity with the help of innate Universal Grammar, while the constructivist approach argues that children's grammar learning is incremental and input-based. However, the research field has been dominated by research on verbs and/or morphologically poor languages, such as English. The current thesis addresses these gaps in research by testing children's knowledge of the full noun morphology system in Lithuanian, a highly morphologically complex language. Three studies are reported in this thesis. The naturalistic speech study found that the child's overall low error rate hid "pockets" of high error rates in mediumfrequency contexts, and that the child was likely to use a high frequency surface form when she produced an erroneous form. There was also some evidence that the child was significantly less flexible in her use of noun cases than her mother. The second study was an elicited production study testing children's ability to produce different cases of familiar nouns. In addition to a relatively high error rate and a tendency to "default" to a high frequency morpheme, significant surface form and phonological neighbourhood density effects were found. Finally, the third study, an elicited production study using novel nouns, tested children's productions of novel noun forms. The results echoed the findings of the familiar noun elicitation experiment. The significant effects of age and phonological neighbourhood density provided evidence for an incremental analogy forming process based on similar, previously acquired items. Together, the multi-methodological group of studies offer a coherent argument against the idea of early full productivity favoured by the generativist approach and support the input-based constructivist approach. However, certain findings, such as the relatively good performance with low frequency cases in the naturalistic speech study, and inconsistent age effects across the elicited production experiments, also challenge current constructivist theories of complex morphology acquisition.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral