Sonority, gender and the impact of suffix predictability on the acquisition of German noun plurals

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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&#8217;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&#8217; preference for local generalizations and the role of neighbourhood density in generalization.


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