Children's Acquisition of the English Past-Tense: Evidence for a Single-Route Account From Novel Verb Production Data

Ryan P. Blything*, Ben Ambridge, Elena V.M. Lieven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study adjudicates between two opposing accounts of morphological productivity, using English past‐tense as its test case. The single‐route model (e.g., Bybee & Moder, 1983) posits that both regular and irregular past‐tense forms are generated by analogy across stored exemplars in associative memory. In contrast, the dual‐route model (e.g., Prasada & Pinker, 1993) posits that regular inflection requires use of a formal “add ‐ed” rule that does not require analogy across regular past‐tense forms. Children (aged 3–4; 5–6; 6–7; 9–10) saw animations of an animal performing a novel action described with a novel verb (e.g., gezz; chake). Past‐tense forms of novel verbs were elicited by prompting the child to describe what the animal “did yesterday.” Collapsing across age group (since no interaction was observed), the likelihood of a verb being produced in regular past‐tense form (e.g., gezzed; chaked) was positively associated with the verb's similarity to existing regular verbs, consistent with the single‐route model only. Results indicate that children's acquisition of the English past‐tense is best explained by a single‐route analogical mechanism that does not incorporate a role for formal rules.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-639
JournalCognitive Science
Issue numberS2
Early online date12 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 The Authors. Cognitive Science published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Cognitive Science Society

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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