Sonority, gender and the impact of suffix predictability on the acquisition of German noun plurals
The acquisition of German noun plurals has been the topic of many studies and of much controversy. This study presents a new method of assessing distributional properties of plural suffix application in German in which the predictability of a given suffix (<i>-s, -(e)n, -e, -er</i> or zero) is calculated according to sonority/gender distributions in actual language use, in our case, in child-directed speech. The relevance of suffix predictability is tested in 140 Viennese children from the age of three to nine years by means of a plural elicitation task. Results show that suffix predictability has an impact on children’s correct and erroneous production of plural suffixes. The results are compatible with a usage-based variant of the single-route view which emphasizes speakers’ preference for local generalizations and the role of neighbourhood density in generalization.