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Learning a morphological system without a default: the Polish genitive

Dabrowska, E. (2001) Learning a morphological system without a default: the Polish genitive. Journal of Child Language, 28 (3). pp. 545-574. ISSN 0305-0009


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The acquisition of the English past tense inflection is the paradigm example of rule learning in the child language literature and has become something of a test case for theories of language development. This is unfortunate, as the idiosyncratic properties of the English system of marking tense make it a rather unrepresentative example of morphological development. In this paper, I contrast this familiar inflection with a much more complex morphological subsystem, the Polish genitive. The genitive case has three different markers, each restricted to a different subset of nouns, in both the singular and the plural.

Analysis of the spontanous speech of three children between the ages of 1;4 and 4;11 showed that they generalized, and overgeneralized, all three singular endings. However, error rates were extremely low and there is no evidence that they treated any one ending as the ‘default’. The genitive plural, on the other hand, showed a strikingly different pattern of acquisition, similar to that seen in English-speaking children learning the past tense. It is argued that in the latter two cases, the default-like character of one of the affixes is attributable to the properties of the relevant inflectional subsystems, not to the predispositions that children bring to the language-learning task.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: © 2001 Cambridge University Press. Reproduced in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics (Sheffield) > Department of English Language and Linguistics (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Repository Assistant
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2006
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2014 10:28
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0305000901004767
Status: Published
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1017/S0305000901004767
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/1587

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