Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Past tense grammaticality judgment and production in non-native and stressed native English speakers*


This paper explores whether the poor mastery of morphosyntax exhibited by second language (L2) learners can be tied to difficulties with non-syntactic processing. Specifically, we examine whether problems with English regular and irregular past tense are related to poor L2 phonological ability and lexical access, respectively. In Experiment 1, L2 learners showed poorer past tense mastery than native English speakers in grammaticality judgment and production tasks. L2 phonological ability was positively correlated with correct performance on regular verbs and negatively with unmarked production. L2 lexical access was positively correlated with correct performance on irregular verbs, and negatively with overregularization production. Experiment 2 simulated these difficulties in native English speakers by placing them under phonological processing (noise) or lexical access (deadline) stress. Noise selectively impacted regular verbs in grammaticality judgment but impacted all verb types in production. Deadline pressure impacted irregular verbs while sparing regular verbs across both tasks. Thus, non-syntactic processing difficulties can have specific impacts on morphosyntactic performance in both non-native and native English speakers.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Janet L. McDonald, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803,
Hide All

A preliminary version of the data reported in this paper was presented at the 47th annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Houston, TX. We thank Matthew Calamia, Patrick Johnson, Alina Oster, Michael Rhea, and Erin Thomas for help in gathering the data.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

R. H. Baayen , & F. Moscoso del Prado Martin (2005). Semantic density and past-tense formation in three Germanic languages. Language, 81, 666698.

W. Baker , & P. Trofimovich (2005). Interaction of native- and second-language vowel system(s) in early and late bilinguals. Language and Speech, 48, 127.

D. M. Basnight-Brown , L. Chen , S. Hua , A. Kostic , & L. B. Feldman (2007). Monolingual and bilingual recognition of regular and irregular English verbs: Sensitivity to form similarity varies with first language experience. Journal of Memory and Language, 57, 6580.

M. L. Beck (1997). Regular verbs, past tense, and frequency: Tracking down a potential source of NS/NNS competence differences. Second Language Research, 13, 93115.

H. Bird , M. A. Lambon Ralph , M. S. Seidenberg , J. L. McClelland , & K. Patterson (2003). Deficits in phonology and past-tense morphology: What's the connection? Journal of Memory and Language, 48, 502526.

A. Blackwell , & E. Bates (1995). Inducing agrammatic profiles in normals: Evidence for the selective vulnerability of morphology under cognitive resource limitation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 7, 228257.

N. Braber , K. Patterson , K. Ellis , & M. A. Lambon Ralph (2005). The relationship between phonological and morphological deficits in Broca's aphasia: Further evidence from errors in verb inflection. Brain & Language, 92, 278287.

L. Burzio (2002). Missing players: Phonology and the past tense debate. Lingua, 112, 157199.

J. L. Bybee , & D. I. Slobin (1982). Rules and schema in the development and use of the English past tense. Language, 58, 265289.

H. H. Clark (1973). The language-as-fixed-effect fallacy. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 12, 335359.

M. J. Cortese , D. A. Balota , S. D. Sergent-Marshall , R. L. Buckner , & B. T. Gold (2006). Consistency and regularity in past-tense verb generation in healthy ageing, Alzheimer's disease, and semantic dementia. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 23, 856876.

F. Dick , E. Bates , & E. C. Ferstl (2003). Spectral and temporal degradation of speech as a simulation of morphosyntactic deficits in English and German. Brain & Language, 85, 535542.

F. Dick , E. Bates , B. Wulfeck , J. A. Utman , N. Dronkers , & M. A. Gernsbacher (2001). Language deficits, localization, and grammar: Evidence for a distributive model of language breakdown in aphasic patients and neurologically intact individuals. Psychological Review, 108, 759788.

J. E. Flege , O. Bohn , & S. Jang (1997). Effects of experience on non-native speakers’ production and perception of English vowels. Journal of Phonetics, 25, 437470.

J. E. Flege , & I. R. A. MacKay (2004). Perceiving vowels in a second language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26, 134.

R. A. Fox , J. E. Flege , & M. J. Munro (1995). The perception of English and Spanish vowels by native English and Spanish listeners: A multidimensional scaling analysis. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 97, 25402551.

T. H. Gollan , R. I. Montoya , C. Fennema-Notestine , & S. K. Morris (2005). Bilingualism affects picture naming but not picture classification. Memory & Cognition, 33, 12201234.

M. E. Hayiou-Thomas , D. V. M. Bishop , & K. Plunkett (2004). Simulating SLI: General cognitive processing stressors can produce a specific linguistic profile. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 13471362.

G. Jia , & A. Fuse (2007). Acquisition of English grammatical morphology by native Mandarin-speaking children and adolescents: Age-related differences. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 50, 12801299.

N. Jiang (2007). Selective integration of linguistic knowledge in adult second language learning. Language Learning, 57, 133.

M. F. Joanisse , & M. S. Seidenberg (1999). Impairments in verb morphology after brain injury: A connectionist model. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, 96, 75927597.

J. S. Johnson , & E. L. Newport (1989). Critical period effects in second language learning: The influence of maturational state on the acquisition of English as a second language. Cognitive Psychology, 21, 6099.

J. S. Johnson , K. D. Shenkman , E. L. Newport , & D. L. Medin (1996). Indeterminacy in the grammar of adult language learners. Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 335352.

K. J. Kohnert , A. E. Hernandez , & E. Bates (1998). Bilingual performance on the Boston Naming Test: Preliminary norms in Spanish and English. Brain & Language, 65, 422440.

M. A. Lambon Ralph , N. Braber , J. L. McClelland , & K. Patterson (2005). What underlies the neuropsychological pattern of irregular > regular past-tense production? Brain & Language, 93, 106119.

V. A. Marchman (1997). Children's productivity in the English past tense: The role of frequency, phonology, and neighborhood structure. Cognitive Science, 21, 283304.

V. A. Marchman , B. Wulfeck , & S. Ellis Weismer (1999). Morphological productivity in children with normal language and SLI: A study of the English past tense. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42, 206219.

J. L. McClelland , & K. Patterson (2002). Rules or connections in past-tense inflections: What does the evidence rule out? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 465472.

J. L. McDonald (2000). Grammaticality judgments in a second language: Influences of age of acquisition and native language. Applied Psycholinguistics, 21, 395423.

J. L. McDonald (2006). Alternatives to the critical period hypothesis: Processing-based explanations for poor grammaticality judgment performance by late second language learners. Journal of Memory and Language, 55, 381401.

D. Meador , J. E. Flege , & I. R. MacKay (2000). Factors affecting the recognition of words in a second language. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 3, 5567.

J. M. Meisel (1997). The acquisition of the syntax of negation in French and German: Contrasting first and second language development. Second Language Research, 13, 227263.

M. Miozzo (2003). On the processing of regular and irregular forms of verbs and nouns: Evidence from neuropsychology. Cognition, 87, 101127.

A. Miyake , P. A. Carpenter , & M. A. Just (1996). A capacity approach to syntactic comprehension disorders: Making normal adults perform like aphasic patients. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 11, 671717.

J. Paradis , & M. Crago (2000). Tense and temporality: Similarities and differences between language-impaired and second-language children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 43, 834848.

K. Patterson , M. A. Lambon Ralph , J. R. Hodges , & J. L. McClelland (2001). Deficits in irregular past-tense verb morphology associated with degraded semantic knowledge. Neuropsychologia, 39, 709724.

S. Pinker , & M. T. Ullman (2002). The past and future of the past tense. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 456463.

P. Prévost , & L. White (2000). Missing surface inflection or impairment in second language acquisition? Evidence from tense and agreement. Second Language Research, 16, 103133.

P. M. Roberts , L. J. Garcia , A. Desrochers , & D. Hernandez (2002). English performance of proficient bilingual adults on the Boston Naming Test. Aphasiology, 16, 635645.

L. R. Sleve , & A. Miyake (2006). Individual differences in second-language proficiency. Psychological Science, 17, 675681.

J. P. Stemberger (2004). Phonological priming and irregular past. Journal of Memory and Language, 50, 8295.

A. Szekely , T. Jacobsen , S. D'Amico , A. Devescovi , E. Andonova , D. Herron , C. C. Lu , T. Pechmann , C. Pleh , N. Wicha , K. Federmeier , I. Gerdjikova , G. Gutierrez , D. Hung , J. Hsu , G. Iyer , K. Kohnert , T. Mehotcheva , A. Orozco-Figueroa , A. Tzeng , O. Tzeng , A. Arevalo , A. Vargha , A. C. Butler , R. Buffington , & E. Bates (2004). A new on-line resource for psycholinguistic studies. Journal of Memory and Language, 51 (2), 247250.

L. K. Tyler , P. deMornay-Davies , R. Anokhina , C. Longworth , B. Randall , & W. D. Marslen-Wilson (2002a). Dissociations in processing past tense morphology: Neuropathology and behavioral studies. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14, 7994.

L. K. Tyler , B. Randall , & W. D. Marslen-Wilson (2002b). Phonology and neuropsychology of the English past tense. Neuropsychologia, 40, 11541166.

M. T. Ullman (2006). The declarative/procedural model and the shallow structure hypothesis. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 97105.

M. T. Ullman , S. Corkin , M. Coppola , G. Hickok , J. H. Growdon , W. J. Koroshetz , & S. Pinker (1997). A neural dissociation within language: Evidence that the mental dictionary is part of declarative memory, and that grammatical rules are processed by the procedural system. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 9, 266276.

M. T. Ullman , R. Pancheva , T. Love , E. Yee , D. Swinney , & G. Hickok (2005). Neural correlates of lexicon and grammar: Evidence from the production, reading, and judgment of inflection in aphasia. Brain & Language, 93, 185238.

A. Weber , & A. Cutler (2004). Lexical competition in non-native spoken-word recognition. Journal of Memory and Language, 50, 125.

G. H. Yeni-Komshian , J. E. Flege , & S. Liu (2000). Pronunciation proficiency in the first and second languages of Korean–English bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 3, 131149.

J. Zhang , & S. T. Mueller (2005). A not on ROC analysis and non-parametric estimate of sensitivity. Psychometrika, 70, 145154.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

McDonald supplementary material

 PDF (19 KB)
19 KB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 5
Total number of PDF views: 27 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 102 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 29th March 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.