Establishing a schema: Children's construals of verb-tense marking

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Over-extension of prefixal m- marking on certain classes of verbs by Hebrew-speaking children at the stage of early morpho-syntax is analyzed in relation to the learner's task in acquiring a wide range of verb inflections to encode, inter alia, distinctions of tense (present, past, future) and mood (imperative, infinitive). Children's widespread, although shortlived, use of such forms as *mi-zaher 'take care' versus normative nizhar, *mi-kanes 'go in' versus nixnas might be due to over-generalization of a specific morphological pattern-cf. li-kanes 'to go in', mi-cayer 'draws' (Berman 1981b). However, in morphological terms, this usage occurs only in those verb-classes which make no overt distinction between past and present tense in the unmarked 3rd masculine singular (nixnas means 'goes in' or 'went in', shar 'is singing' or 'sang'); and semantically, it is confined to verbs referring to current or ongoingactivities. This indicates strongly that children initially adopt prefixal m- as a unique marker of present-tense, a feasible strategy since most Hebrew verb-pattern conjugations do, in fact, have m- initial prefixes in present tense. Implications of these findings are considered in terms of (1) the nature and role of children's "interim schemata" en route to productive rules subject to adult constraints, (2) the interpretation of "errors" in child language studies, and (3) the relation between children's construals and grammatical description-in this case, concerning the precedence of verb-tense over verb-pattern binyan systems in both language development (Berman 1980) and linguistic theory (Bolozky 1979).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-78
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1983


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