Why brush your teeth is better than teeth - children's word production is facilitated in familiar sentence-frames

Inbal Arnon*, Eve V. Clark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Adult production is influenced by the larger linguistic contexts in which words appear. Children, like adults, hear words in recurring linguistic contexts, but little is known on the effect of that context on their speech. We look at the production of irregular plurals in English (e.g., mice, feet) to argue that children attend to the larger phrases words appear in and make use of that distributional knowledge in production. We assess the role of linguistic context by comparing irregular plurals elicited with a general question (What are all these?) versus a lexically specific frequent frame (e.g., Three blind -). In study 1, 4;6 year-olds produced many more correct irregulars after lexically specific frequent frames (72%) than after a general question (32%). Corpus data on spontaneous speech offered analogous findings: Children did not overregularize irregular plurals after lexically-specific frames. In study 2, we confirm children's sensitivity to the relation between particular words and phrases: A familiar frame (So many) enhanced production (52%) but not as much as the lexically specific frames in Study 1. Children's word production is affected by the larger patterns words appear in. Consequently, studies of lexical and morphological acquisition need to take linguistic context into account when assessing children's abilities. This has implications for models of both lexical and morphological acquisition.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)107-129
Number of pages23
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


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