The role of frequency in learning morphophonological alternations

implications for children with specific language impairment

Ekaterina Tomas*, Katherine Demuth, Peter Petocz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The aim of this article was to explore how the type of allomorph (e.g., past tense buzz[d] vs. nod[əd]) influences the ability to perceive and produce grammatical morphemes in children with typical development and with specific language impairment (SLI). Method: The participants were monolingual Australian English- speaking children. The SLI group included 13 participants (mean age = 5;7 [years;months]); the control group included 19 children with typical development (mean age = 5;4). Both groups performed a grammaticality judgment and elicited production task with the same set of nonce verbs in third-person singular and past tense forms. Results: Five-year-old children are still learning to generalize morphophonological patterns to novel verbs, and syllabic /əz/ and /əd/ allomorphs are significantly more challenging to produce, particularly for the SLI group. The greater phonetic content of these syllabic forms did not enhance perception. Conclusions: Acquisition of morphophonological patterns involving low-frequency allomorphs is still underway in 5-year-old children with typical development, and it is even more protracted in SLI populations, despite these patterns being highly predictable. Children with SLI will therefore benefit from targeted intervention with low-frequency allomorphs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1316-1329
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2017

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