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Abstract: Lee

Pinker & Prince (1988) argue that regular plurals and irregular plurals are neurologically and linguistically discrete entities. This claim leads them to conclude that the dislike of regular plural non-heads in compounding is an innate constraint (e.g., I saw a *rats eater). If this is the innate constraint, can second language (L2) learners acquire it easily? Before answering this question, we should examine the claim minutely since there seems to be little agreement among first language acquisition studies as to the innate constraint. Alegre& Gordon (1996), on the one hand, show that English speaking 3-5 year olds read [[red rats]NP eaterN)]N as an eater eats red rats’ (= a recursive interpretation) about 70% of time unlike red rat eater, which can be ambiguous, due to the innate constraint. On the other hand, Ramscar& Dye (2011) demonstrate that adult English speakers choose both recursive and non-recursive interpretations of phrasal compounds depending on  which adjectives are attached to (e.g., long soldiers list vs. brave soldiers list). My project attempts  to resolve these contradictory findings by implementing a masked priming study with three types  of frequency of phrasal compounds as criteria. My study shows that 19 Canadian English speakers process phrasal compounds based on the frequency of combinations of words. The results imply that the dislike of regular plural non-heads is not an innate constraint. It varies from dialect to dialect. Based on these findings, my project investigates the roles of transfer, frequency and input in adult L2 acquisition.


Alegre, M & Gordon, P. 1996. Red rats eater exposes recursion in childrens word formation.

Cognition 60: 65 82.

Pinker, S. & Prince, A. 1988. On language and connectionism: An analysis of a parallel distributed processing model of language acquisition. Cognition 28: 73 193.

Ramscar, M. & Dye, M. 2011. Learning language from the input: Why innate constraints cant explain noun compounding. Cognitive Psychology 62: 1 40.