The acquisition of English past tense in bilingual children
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This study investigated the role of cross-linguistic influence in the production of verb morphology by comparing two bilingual groups from distinct L1 backgrounds, one with rich inflectional morphology (i.e., Spanish), and the other lacking grammatical morphology (i.e., Mandarin). 20 Spanish-English bilinguals, 20 Mandarin-English bilinguals, and 20 English monolingual peers, aged 3-4 years, completed a picture elicitation task, in which they were prompted to produce past tense forms of 40 regular and irregular verbs. We addressed the following questions: (1) Is past tense production accuracy comparable across the three language groups? (2) Do verb frequency and regularity influence past tense production in monolinguals and bilinguals? (3) What error patterns do monolinguals and bilinguals exhibit? Mandarin-English bilingual children were less proficient at producing English past tense than both English monolingual and Spanish-English bilingual peers. The group effect on overall accuracy, however, was moderated by verb regularity, with comparable odds to produce target forms between the two bilingual groups for irregular verbs. There was also a group difference in error patterns. The English monolinguals and the Spanish-English bilinguals were more likely than the Mandarin-English bilinguals to overregularize past tense markers, whereas the Mandarin-English speakers were more likely to produce bare stems of the verbs. This study yielded suggestive evidence of cross-linguistic transfer in tense morphology acquisition in young bilingual children. As an important and effective clinical marker for language impairment, verb morphology needs to be considered with language backgrounds for accurate assessment in bilingual children.