Collaborative Research: Effects of Unreliable Input on Children' s Acquisition of Spanish

Project: Research project

Project Details


Children acquire a linguistic system in a short amount of time and with no great apparent effort. This is a hard task made much harder by the fact that children are exposed to a high degree of variation. For example, no two words are ever pronounced exactly the same way. There is variation across dialects, as well as intra- and inter-speaker variability that can be linked to socio-economic status, gender, etc. Most research on language acquisition has either assumed that the language the child is exposed to is not variable or has modeled input variability either computationally or in a small-scale laboratory setting. This project will examine the effects of input variability on the acquisition of plural morphology in two dialects of Spanish. Chilean Spanish has a socio-linguistically conditioned phonological process which masks the realization of plural morphology, but Mexico City Spanish does not. By studying how children acquire plural markers in a natural setting, researchers will be able to determine how (un)reliable input affects the acquisition process and also what sorts of input data are relevant to the child who is building her own internalized grammatical system.The comparison of the acquisition process in these two varieties of Spanish can be used as a testing ground for various hypotheses about the ways in which the learning mechanism interacts with the input data. These studies will provide much needed data which will contribute to a better understanding of the influence of dialect variation on children's early language development. Dialect variation must be taken into consideration when evaluating children's performance in the context of standardized testing, teaching strategies and clinical intervention in the case of speech disorders. Approximately 300 hours of transcribed speech will be made available to other researchers via a computer searchable database concerning the development of plural morphology in children who are exposed to dialects where the plural suffix is omitted to various degrees. These data can then be used by speech pathologists to design dialect-sensitive tests.
Effective start/end date7/15/101/31/13


  • National Science Foundation: $34,570.00


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