Rule-based learning of regular past tense in children with specific language impairment

Karen M. Smith-Lock*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    The treatment of children with specific language impairment was used as a means to investigate whether a single- or dual-mechanism theory best conceptualizes the acquisition of English past tense. The dual-mechanism theory proposes that regular English past-tense forms are produced via a rule-based process whereas past-tense forms of irregular verbs are stored in the lexicon. Single-mechanism theories propose that both regular and irregular past-tense verbs are stored in the lexicon. Five 5-year-olds with specific language impairment received treatment for regular past tense. The children were tested on regular past-tense production and third-person singular “s” twice before treatment and once after treatment, at eight-week intervals. Treatment consisted of one-hour play-based sessions, once weekly, for eight weeks. Crucially, treatment focused on different lexical items from those in the test. Each child demonstrated significant improvement on the untreated past-tense test items after treatment, but no improvement on the untreated third-person singular “s”. Generalization to untreated past-tense verbs could not be attributed to a frequency effect or to phonological similarity of trained and tested items. It is argued that the results are consistent with a dual-mechanism theory of past-tense inflection.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)221-242
    Number of pages22
    JournalCognitive Neuropsychology
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2015


    • connectionist
    • dual-mechanism theory
    • intervention
    • past tense
    • rule-based
    • single-mechanism theory
    • specific language impairment
    • treatment


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