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Poster: Kabasele 1

Testing the matrix by Dulay and Burt (1974) on the order of grammatical morpheme acquisition for L3 learners of English

Philothe Kabasele

This paper investigates the universality of the acquisition order of English functors. I test the order of grammatical morpheme acquisition matrix suggested by Dulay and Burt (1974) who argue that L1 transfer is not a factor in explaining the developmental sequence and all children acquire the English functors (Table 1) in the developmental sequence provided regardless of what L1 they speak.

I test whether bilingual learners acquire L3 English in the same developmental sequence. I examine whether children with two previous linguistic systems follow the same order of grammatical morpheme acquisition as L2 English learners. Should the data confirm the order in Table 1, it will confirm Dulay and Burt’s hypothesis that transfer from a prior language plays no role in explaining the developmental sequence. Otherwise, I will consider that other factors may play a role.

Bibi, an L1 Lingala L2 French speaker, aged 4 as the onset age, served as the participant. Bibi was video taped as she was exposed to English at school and at home in the US. The analysis first sets the “baseline data set” which determines when the irregular past tense functors was first produced, and compares it against earlier and subsequent recordings to determine the earlier morphemes that are present and absent.

Bibi presents the same learning trajectory as child L2 learners who experienced difficulties acquiring the third person singular –s and the possessive ‘s. She experienced difficulties acquiring the verbal regular past tense -ed and grammatical morphemes with sibilant quality. Most functors with [s]-like quality have not emerged earlier in the developmental process with the exception of the plural marker -s. Like International Adopted children, Bibi produced high percent of omission errors and low percent of commission errors. Like L1, child L2 learners, and IA children, Bibi mastered non-tense-markers earlier than tense-markers.



Table 1

The order of grammatical morpheme acquisition for children learning English as a Second Language in the United States



Plural – s


Present progressive – ing


Copula be


Auxiliary be


Articles a/an and the


Irregular past tense


Regular past tense – ed


Third person singular present tense – s


Possessive – ‘s


 (Dulay & Burt, 1974)