Morphophonological alternations can make target-like production of grammatical morphemes challenging due to changes in form depending on the phonological environment. This article explores the acquisition of morphophonological alternations involving the interacting patterns of vowel deletion and stress shift in Russian-speaking children (aged 4;0–7;11) using a ‘wug’ test with real and nonce words. Depending on the phonological context, participants were expected to either delete vowels (e.g. ko'mokNom,sg – kom'kaGen,sg) or preserve them (e.g. pji´lotNom,sg – pji´lotaGen,sg). The results showed that children’s sensitivity to morphophonological patterns increases with age: 4-year-olds tended to preserve underlying vowels and stress across conditions, whereas older children demonstrated growing accuracy, at least with real words. Stressed vowels were more appropriately alternated and preserved across conditions, suggesting suprasegmental effects on the acquisition of segmental alternation patterns in Russian.
Children’s ability to interpret color adjective noun phrases (e.g., red butterfly) as contrastive was examined in an eyetracking study with 6-year-old Russian children. Pitch accent placement (on the adjective red, or on the noun butterfly) was compared within a visual context containing two red referents (a butterfly and a fox) when only one of them had a contrast member (a purple butterfly) or when both had a contrast member (a purple butterfly and a grey fox). Contrastiveness was enhanced by the Russianspecific ‘split constituent’ construction (e.g., Red put butterfly . . .) in which a contrastive interpretation of the color term requires pitch accent on the adjective, with the nonsplit sentences serving as control. Regardless of the experimental manipulations, children had to wait until hearing the noun (butterfly) to identify the referent, even in splits. This occurred even under conditions for which the prosody and the visual context allow adult listeners to infer the relevant contrast set and anticipate the referent prior to hearing the noun (accent on the adjective in 1-Contrast scenes). Pitch accent on the adjective did facilitate children’s referential processing, but only for the nonsplit constituents. Moreover, visual contexts that encouraged the correct contrast set (1-Contrast) only facilitated referential processing after hearing the noun, even in splits. Further analyses showed that children can anticipate the reference like adults but only when the contrast set is made salient by the preceding supportive discourse, that is, when the inference about the intended contrast set is provided by the preceding utterance.
A growing body of research with typically developing children has begun to show that the acquisition of grammatical morphemes interacts not only with a developing knowledge of syntax, but also with developing abilities at the interface with prosodic phonology. In particular, a Prosodic Licensing approach to these issues provides a framework for understanding why children’s early use of grammatical morphemes is so variable. This in turn provides a means for making predictions, given the prosodic structure of a particular language and the location of a particular grammatical morpheme, if it is likely to be produced or not. Given that many of the patterns of development found in typically developing children are found in older children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) as well, the Prosodic Licensing Hypothesis should provide a better understanding of some of the variable use of grammatical morphemes found in children with SLI.