How the input shapes the acquisition of verb morphology: elicited production and computational modelling in two highly inflected languages

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • External authors:
  • Felix Engelmann
  • Sonia Granlund
  • Joanna Kolak
  • Marta Szreder
  • Julian M. Pine


The aim of the present work was to develop a computational model of how
children acquire inflectional morphology for marking person and number; one
of the central challenges in language development. First, in order to establish
which putative learning phenomena are sufficiently robust to constitute a target
for modelling, we ran large-scale elicited production studies with native learners
of Finnish (N=77; 35-63 months) and Polish (N=81; 35-59 months), using a
novel method that, unlike previous studies, allows for elicitation of all six person/number forms in the paradigm (first, second and third person; singular
and plural). We then proceeded to build and test a connectionist model of the
acquisition of person/number marking which not only acquires near adult-like
mastery of the system (including generalisation to unseen items), but also yields
all of the key phenomena observed in the elicited-production studies; specifically, effects of token frequency and phonological neighbourhood density of the target form, and a pattern whereby errors generally reflect the replacement of low frequency targets by higher-frequency forms of the same verb, or forms with the same person/number as the target, but with a suffix from an inappropriate conjugation class. The findings demonstrate that acquisition of even highly complex systems of inflectional morphology can be accounted for by a theoretical model that assumes rote storage and phonological analogy, as opposed to formal symbolic rules.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-69
Number of pages40
JournalCognitive Psychology
Early online date18 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019

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