“Giants is all cannybully and murderful”: Linking children’s experiences of morphological complexity in texts and processing of morphologically complex words

“Giants is all cannybully and murderful”: Linking children’s experiences of morphological complexity in texts and processing of morphologically complex words

First Author: Nicola Dawson -- University of Oxford
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kate Nation
Keywords: Morphology, Book Reading, children, visual word recognition
Abstract / Summary: 

Morphology has an important role in learning to read, yet we know little about the factors underpinning children’s acquisition of morphological knowledge. Recent theories emphasize the importance of language experience in shaping children’s understanding and use of linguistic structures. Our aims were to a) characterize morphological complexity in texts written for children of different ages; b) examine how this differs from morphological complexity in spoken language, and c) investigate whether properties of morphologically complex words children typically encounter through early reading experiences predict morphological processing. We calculated the proportion of compounds and derivations in a corpus of 160 popular children’s picture books and compared it to child-directed speech (using a sample of the English-UK CHILDES corpora). We conducted a similar analysis on a larger and more varied set of reading material from the Oxford Children’s Corpus, comprising around 21,000 documents aimed at children aged 5-16 years, to examine variation in morphological complexity as a function of target age. Finally, we calculated type and token frequencies of derivational affixes in a set of reading materials targeted at readers aged 5-8 years. Our findings revealed a higher proportion of morphologically complex words in written compared to spoken language, and an increase in complex words in written material in line with target age, which is driven primarily by derivation. Our analyses of type and token frequencies of derivational affixes will be used to predict variation in processing of morphologically-structured nonwords containing those affixes in the context of a lexical decision task. Our findings will provide insights into how morphological regularities in written language support children’s acquisition of morphological knowledge, and highlight the importance of reading experience for the emergence of morphological effects in visual word recognition.