Not All Children Agree: Acquisition of Agreement When the Input Is Variable

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In this paper we investigate the effect of variable input on the acquisition of grammar. More specifically, we examine the acquisition of the third person singular marker -s on the auxiliary do in comprehension and production in two groups of children who are exposed to similar varieties of English but that differ with respect to adult production of agreement on the auxiliary. In the first variety, the input to children for agreement on the auxiliary is consistent as the marker is always produced when there is a third person singular subject. In the second variety, however, there is a variable input for agreement marking on the auxiliary do: within and across speakers, agreement marking is sometimes present (e.g., He doesn't like venison) and sometimes absent (e.g., He don't like venison) with third person singular subjects. In other words, while both groups of children are exposed to an input where the third person singular marker is always present on the main verb (when it agrees with a third person singular subject), the input to the two groups of children differs in the context of agreement on the auxiliary do. The results of the present study show that while the two groups of children differ from each other in their own production of agreement marking on the auxiliary, a finding we attribute to the input type they are exposed to, they do not differ in their (in)ability to associate the marker to a third person singular subject in comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-277
Number of pages23
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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