Comprehension of the copula: preschoolers (and sometimes adults) ignore subject–verb agreement during sentence processing

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Abstract

Subject–verb (SV) agreement helps listeners interpret the number condition of ambiguous nouns (The sheep is/are fat), yet it remains unclear whether young children use agreement to comprehend newly encountered nouns. Preschoolers and adults completed a forced choice task where sentences contained singular vs. plural copulas (Where is/are the [novel noun(s)]?). Novel nouns were either morphologically unambiguous (tup/tups) or ambiguous (/geks/ = singular: gex / plural: gecks). Preschoolers (and some adults) ignored the singular copula, interpreting /ks/-final words as plural, raising questions about the role of SV agreement in learners’ sentence comprehension and the status of is in Australian English.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-708
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Child Language
Volume47
Issue number3
Early online date19 Nov 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020

Keywords

  • language change
  • comprehension
  • agreement

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