Project 8

Phonological and lexical effects on word and morphology learning in children with low and high vocabulary: Evidence from Hungarian (WP 2)

ESR 8: Enikő Ladányi


Prof. Dr. Judith Gervain (University Paris Descartes, France)
Ágnes Melinda Kovács (Central European University, Hungary)

We will explore how two morphophonetic properties, vowel harmony and agglutinating, are acquired in languages, such as Hungarian. The acquisition of agglutinating morphology which requires efficient mechanisms to separate words and suffixes is often delayed or impaired in language disorders. Vowel harmony is believed to be one morpho-phonetic property that infants exploit to deal with the segmentation task if complex and highly irregular morphologies are present. Infants will be tested behaviourally at 14 and 18 months to test for their sensitivity to vowel harmony as well as for their ability to segment morphologically complex words into stems and suffixes. Individual variability will be assessed. These measures will be complemented with EEG data and will be correlated with vocabulary measures. To allow for an assessment of vowel harmony and complex morphology in word learning, Hungarian infants will be compared with German and French infants of the same age, in collaboration with ESRs 6 and 7, as these languages do not have vowel harmony and exhibit relatively poorer morphology.

We expect to find selective sensitivity to vowel harmony in Hungarian infants after a certain amount of experience with the native language, and expect them to rely on this and other morphophonetic cues to segment morphologically complex words into stems and suffixes. Lower sensitivity to vowel harmony may correlate with lower vocabulary in Hungarian infants.