How frequent are these verbs?

An exploration of lexical frequency in bilingual children’s acquisition of subject-verb agreement morphology



In monolingual (L1) acquisition, children produce target-like subject-verb agreement early in development in both Spanish (Grinstead 1998) and English (Guasti 2002). However, in heritage simultaneous bilinguals (2L1) and child second language acquirers (L2), agreement morphology shows variability (Goldin 2020; Herschensohn & Stevenson 2005) due to age of acquisition (AoA) effects. Lexical frequency is another factor that has been shown to play a role in modulating L1 (i.e. Ambridge et al. 2015) and heritage acquisition (i.e. Giancaspro 2017, 2020), but little is known about its effect in child L2. This study explores the extent to which verb lexical frequency plays a role in the acquisition of verb morphology for bilingual children with differing AoA, comparing 42 2L1 heritage children with 46 L2 Spanish learners with AoA of 5;0. They participated in a Spanish fill-in-the-blanks production task. The results of an analysis focused on singular correr and comer (chosen because they differ in only one phoneme) indicated that responses to comer, the more frequent verb, were more target-like for both groups, and that frequency showed a stronger effect for heritage 2L1 children than for L2 children, while also modulating non-target-like responses. We discuss these findings with implications for bilingual development and education.


morphology, subject-verb agreement, lexical frequency, age of acquisition, bilingual development, child second language acquisition


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