Skip to main content Accessibility help

Verb inflection in German-learning children with typical and atypical language acquisition: the impact of subsyllabic frequencies*

  • SUSAN OTT (a1) and BARBARA HÖHLE (a1)


Previous research has shown that high phonotactic frequencies facilitate the production of regularly inflected verbs in English-learning children with specific language impairment (SLI) but not with typical development (TD). We asked whether this finding can be replicated for German, a language with a much more complex inflectional verb paradigm than English. Using an elicitation task, the production of inflected nonce verb forms (3rd person singular with -t suffix) with either high- or low-frequency subsyllables was tested in sixteen German-learning children with SLI (ages 4;1–5;1), sixteen TD-children matched for chronological age (CA) and fourteen TD-children matched for verbal age (VA) (ages 3;0–3;11). The findings revealed that children with SLI, but not CA- or VA-children, showed differential performance between the two types of verbs, producing more inflectional errors when the verb forms resulted in low-frequency subsyllables than when they resulted in high-frequency subsyllables, replicating the results from English-learning children.



Hide All

Address for correspondence: Susan Ott, University of Potsdam, Linguistics Department, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24/25, D-14476 Potsdam, Germany. tel: +49 331 977 2934; fax: +49 331 977 2095; e-mail:



Hide All
Aichert, I., Marquardt, C. & Ziegler, W. (2005). Frequenzen sublexikalischer Einheiten des Deutschen. CELEX-basierteDatenbanken. Neurolinguistik 19, 5581.
Archer, S. & Curtin, S. (2008). Infant perception of language specific phonotactics. Poster presented at the 26th International Congress of Infant Studies (ICIS), Vancouver.
Baayen, R. H., Piepenbrock, R. & Gulikers, L. (1995). The CELEX Lexical Database (Release 2) [CD-ROM]. Philadelphia, PA: Linguistic Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania.
Bailey, T. M. & Hahn, U. (2001). Determinants of wordlikeness. Phonotactics or lexical neighborhoods? Journal of Memory and Language 44, 568–91.
Beckman, M. E. & Edwards, J. (2000). Lexical frequency effects on young children's imitative productions. In Broe, M. & Pierrehumbert, J. (eds), Papers in laboratory phonology V. Language acquisition and the lexicon, 208218. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bishop, D. V. M. (1994). Grammatical errors in specific language impairment. Competence or performance limitations? Applied Psycholinguistics 15, 507550.
Bortfeld, H., Morgan, J. L., Golinkoff, R. M. & Rathbun, K. (2005). Mommy and me. Familiar names help launch babies into speech-stream segmentation. Psychological Science 16, 298304.
Clahsen, H., Eisenbeiss, S. & Penke, M. (1996). Lexical learning in early syntactic development. In Clahsen, H. (ed.), Generative perspectives on language acquisition, 129–59. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Coady, J. A., Evans, J. L. & Kluender, K. R. (2010a). The role of phonotactic frequency in nonword repetition by children with specific language impairments. International Journal of Language and Communicative Disorders 45, 494509.
Coady, J. A., Evans, J. L. & Kluender, K. R. (2010b). The role of phonotactic frequency in sentence repetition by children with specific language impairments. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research 52, 1401–416.
Crystal, D., Fletcher, P. & Garman, M. (1989). The grammatical analysis of language disability, 2nd edn.London: Cole & Whurr.
Daugherty, K. & Seidenberg, M. (1992). Rules or connections? The past tense revisited. In Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 259–64. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Edwards, J. & Beckman, M. E. (2008). Some cross-linguistic evidence for modulation of implicational universals by language-specific frequency effects in phonological development. Language, Learning and Development 4, 122–56.
Fikkert, P. (1994). On the acquisition of prosodic structure. Dordrecht: ICG Printing.
Fox, A. V. & Dodd, B. (1999). Der Erwerb des phonologischen Systems in der deutschen Sprache. Sprache, Stimme, Gehör 23, 183–91.
Fox, A. V. & Schoop, S. (2006). Test zur Überprüfung des Grammatikverständnisses (TROG-D). Idstein: Schulz-Kirchner.
Goodman, J. C., Dale, P. S. & Li, P. (2008). Does frequency count? Parental input and the acquisition of vocabulary. Journal of Child Language 35, 515–31.
Grijzenhout, J. & Joppen-Hellwig, S. (2002). The lack of onsets in German child phonology. In Lasser, I. (ed.), The process of language acquisition. Proceedings of GALA 1999, 319–39. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.
Hall, T. A. (1992). Syllable structure and syllable-related processes in German. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Hillinger, M. L. (1980). Priming effects with phonemically similar words. The encoding-bias hypothesis reconsidered. Memory and Cognition 8, 115–23.
Hollich, G., Jusczyk, P. W. & Luce, P. A. (2002). Lexical neighbourhood effects in 17-month-old word learning. In Scarabela, B., Fish, S. A. & Do, A. (eds), Proceedings of the 26th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, 314–23. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla.
Jusczyk, P. W., Luce, P. A. and Charles-Luce, J. (1994). Infants' sensitivity to phonotactic patterns in the native language. Journal of Memory and Language 33, 630–45.
Kauschke, C. & Siegmüller, J. (2009). Patholinguistische Diagnostik bei Sprachentwicklungsstörungen, 2nd edn.München: Elsevier.
Kehoe, M. M. & Lleó, C. (2003). The acquisition of nuclei. A longitudinal analysis of phonological vowel length in three German-speaking children. Journal of Child Language 30, 527–56.
Kehoe, M. M. & Stoel-Gammon, C. (2001). Development of syllable structure in English-speaking children with particular reference to rhymes. Journal of Child Language 28, 393432.
Kiese-Himmel, C. (2005). Aktiver Wortschatztest für 3- bis 5-jährige Kinder – Revision (AWST-R). Göttingen: Beltz.
Leonard, L. B., Davis, J. & Deevy, P. (2007). Phonotactic probability and past tense use by children with specific language impairment and their developing peers. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 21, 747–58.
Levelt, C. C. (1994). On the acquisition of place. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Leiden University, Den Haag.
MacWhinney, B. (2000). The CHILDES project. Tools for analyzing talk. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Marchman, V. A. (1997). Children's productivity in the English past tense: The role of frequency, phonology, and neighbourhood structure. Cognitive Science 21, 283304.
Marchman, V. A., Wulfeck, B. & Ellis Weismer, S. (1999). Productivity of past tense in children with normal language and specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 42, 206219.
Marshall, C. R. & van der Lely, H. K. J. (2006). A challenge to current models of past tense inflection. The impact of phonotactics. Cognition 100, 302320.
Marshall, C. R. & van der Lely, H. K. J. (2007). The impact of phonological complexity on past tense inflection in children with grammatical-SLI. Advances in Speech-Language Pathology 9, 191203.
Marshall, C. R., Marinis, T. & van der Lely, H. K. J. (2007). Passive verb morphology: The effect of phonotactics on passive comprehension in typically developing and grammatical-SLI-children. Lingua 117, 1434–47.
Matthews, D. E. & Theakston, A. L. (2006). Errors of omission in English-speaking children's production of plurals and the past tense: The effects of frequency, phonology, and competition. Cognitive Science 30, 1027–52.
Mattys, S. L. & Jusczyk, P. W. (2001). Phonotactic cues for segmentation of fluent speech by infants. Cognition 78, 91121.
McRae, K. & Boisvert, S. (1998). Automatic semantic similarity priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 24, 558–72.
Murphy, V. A., Dockrell, J., Messer, D. & Farr, H. (2008). Morphosyntax in children with word finding difficulties. Journal of Child Language 35, 703720.
Nazzi, T., Bertoncini, J. & Bjeljac-Babic, R. (2009). A perceptual equivalent of the labial-coronal effect in the first year of life. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 126, 1440–46.
Oetting, J. B. & Hadley, P. A. (2009). Morphosyntax in child language disorders. In Schwartz, R. G. (ed.), Handbook of child language disorders, 341–64. New York: Psychology Press.
Oetting, J. B. & Horohov, J. E. (1997). Past-tense marking by children with and without specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 40, 6274.
Penke, M. (2006). Flexion im mentalen Lexikon. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Plunkett, K. & Marchman, V. (1993). From rote learning to system building. Acquiring verb morphology in children and connectionist nets. Cognition 48, 2169.
Rice, M. L. & Oetting, J. B. (1993). Morphological deficits of children with SLI: Evaluation of number marking and agreement. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 36, 1249–57.
Rice, M. L., Ruff Noll, K. & Grimm, H. (1997). An extended optional infinitive stage in German-speaking children with specific language impairment. Language Acquisition 6, 255–95.
Richtsmeier, P. T., Gerken, L. A. & Ohala, D. K. (2011). Contributions of phonetic token variability and word-type frequency to phonological representations. Journal of Child Language 38(5), 951–78.
Rumelhart, D. E. & McClelland, J. L. (1987). Learning the past tenses of English verbs. Implicit rules or parallel distributed processing? In MacWhinney, B. (ed.), Mechanisms of language acquisition, 194248. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Saffran, J. R., Aslin, R. N. & Newport, E. L. (1996). Statistical learning by 8-month-old infants. Science 274, 1926–28.
Song, J. Y., Sundara, M. & Demuth, K. (2009). Phonological constraints on children's production of English third person singular -s. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 52, 623–42.
Stokes, S., Wong, A. M.-Y., Fletcher, P. & Leonard, L. B. (2006). Nonword repetition and sentence repetition as clinical markers of SLI. The case of Cantonese. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 49, 219–36.
Storkel, H. L. (2001). Learning new words. Phonotactic probability in language development. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 44, 1321–37.
Storkel, H. L. & Rogers, M. A. (2000). The effect of probabilistic phonotactics on lexical acquisition. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 14, 407425.
Theodore, R. M., Demuth, K. & Shattuck-Hufnagel, S. (2011). Acoustic evidence for positional and complexity effects on children's production of plural -s. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 54, 539–48.
Thiessen, E. D. (2007). The effect of distributional information on children's use of phonemic contrasts. Journal of Memory and Language 56, 1634.
Ullman, M. T. & Gopnick, M. (1999). The production of inflectional morphology in hereditary specific language impairment. Applied Psycholinguistics 20, 51117.
van der Lely, H. K. J. & Ullman, M. T. (2001). Past tense morphology in specifically language impaired and normally developing children. Language and Cognitive Processes 16, 177217.
Verrips, M. & Weissenborn, J. (1992). Routes to verb placement in early German and French. The independence of finiteness and agreement. In Meisel, J. M. (ed.), The acquisition of verb placement, 283331. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Vitevitch, M. S. (2003). The influence of sublexical and lexical representations on the processing of spoken words in English. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 17, 487–99.
Wiese, R. (2000). The phonology of German, 2nd corrected edn.Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zamuner, T. S. (2009). Phonotactic probabilities on the onset of language development. Speech production and word position. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 52, 4960.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Verb inflection in German-learning children with typical and atypical language acquisition: the impact of subsyllabic frequencies*

  • SUSAN OTT (a1) and BARBARA HÖHLE (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.