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This chapter will survey studies conducted on the acquisition of morphology and syntax among
Malay children in Malaysia. Studies will be described so as to give an account of how research in
this area has progressed and aspects of research which are still lacking will be highlighted. Issues
and challenges will also be raised and the future needs in terms of research and its applications
will be elaborated on.
Though this chapter covers studies which were carried out in Malaysia, we will briefly mention
studies carried out elsewhere in the region, namely Singapore and Indonesia. This is to illustrate
the diverse nature of research conducted and also to contribute to the overall picture of
developmental Malay morphology and syntax studies in the region. Aman (2007 and Chapter 9)
examined the acquisition of wh-questions among 30 Singapore Malay preschool children (with a
mean age of 4;2) with ages ranging from 3;4 to 4;6, who were tested using experimental (elicited
imitation tasks, picture-story comprehension task) and longitudinal methodologies (spontaneous
production tasks). Aman examined childrens understanding of three different types of whquestions, that is, questions which involved moved wh-words, wh-in-situ (wh-word in base
position) and focus questions. The childrens knowledge of long-distance movement and the role
of island constraints were examined. Aman found that children between ages 4;5 and 6;5 seemed
not to respect island constraints on wh-movements. It was argued that the island constraints are
the result of a processing effect in which in-situ wh-questions are not subject to islands, but
instead are primes for the responses in fully moved questions. Children used relative clause
marker yang in both headless (e.g. Yang colour orange panjang itu apa? What (is) that (thing
that is) long (and) orange (in colour)?) and headed relative clauses (e.g. Nanti kita baca buku
yang lain We (will) read a book that (is different than this) later). This was attributed to the
filler-gap strategy rather than the reconstruction strategy.

Putting words together:

Morphology and Syntax
Week 5
SPH 229
Prof. Amee Shah


After the first word, vocabulary grows rapidly---new words are learned daily

Words are used in a variety of different contexts

Most often, to label objects or to interact socially

For a while, only one word at a time used

By the latter half of 2 nd year, children reach the important milestone of putting words
together to form sentences----this systematic combination of words that is rule-governed
(not simply random) is called "syntax"

What is special about syntactic development?

Grammatical rules develop almost unnoticed---with no explicit instruction

Parents have been focusing on teaching vocabulary (concepts and words), and often
never try to consciously teach syntax

They focus more on "what" the child is saying rather than "how" the child says it

Some questions to consider regarding children's syntactic development

Answer: Last week's lecture---learning, fast mapping etc.

How do they learn to figure out basic grammatical categories of their language as nouns,
verbs, and adjectives?

Answer: Using meanings to "bootstrap" into the syntactic system

How do we measure syntactic development?

Wide variability across children in the age at which word-combinations occur...

Some start at 15 months, most around 18 months, and almost everyone by 2 years

So, age is not the best way to compare children's grammar development...we need some
other measure

A way to measure syntactic development:

Mean Length of Utterance (MLU):

Introduced by Roger Brown--major measure of syntactic development

Based on average length of a child's sentences (scored on transcripts of spontaneous


MLU: Measures how complex a child's grammar is

Introduced by Roger Brown--to measure of syntactic development

Based on average length of a child's sentences scored on transcripts of spontaneous


Syntactic length is determined by no. of morphemes (smallest meaningful units) rather

than words

Morphemes=content words (cat, play, do, red) and function words (no, the, you, this) and
affixes (un-, -s, -ed)

The more the morphemes, the complex the language---and higher the MLU

Thus, children who have similar MLUs are at the same level of linguistic maturity,
and their language is at the same level of complexity

Examples of MLUs

MLU =1: e.g. single words such as no, yeah, hi ; compound words such as birthday,
choo-choo, night-night ; irregular past tenses such as got, went, saw (even though these
are two morphemes)

MLU=2: e.g. gonna, wanna, hafta; inflections such as possessive -s, plural -s etc.

MLU Stages

Stage 1: MLU b/w 1.0-2.0

Stage 2: MLU b/w 2.0-2.5

Stage 3: MLU b/w 2.5-3.0

Stage 4: MLU b/w 3.0-3.5

Stage 5: MLU b/w 3.5-4.0

Beyond 4.0, MLU is not the appropriate measure

Rules for calculating MLU (will be covered later for assignment)

Some terms and concepts:

Telegraphic Speech : At 2-word stage

Children tend to use only content words (nouns/verbs/adjectives), and omit function
words, such as prepositions, conjunctions, articles, pronouns, auxiliaries, and inflections:

E.g. Sammy go (note: no pronoun, auxiliary verb "is", or inflections "goes" or "ing")

So, these sound like telegrams

Some terms...

Semantic relation : children's early 2-word combinations contain only a small group of
meaning relationships

E.g. agent+action (mommy come, daddy sit)

Action+object (drive car, eat grape)

Agent+object (mommy sock, baby book)

Action+location (go park, sit chair)

Thus, they talk a lot about OBJECTS, PEOPLE and ACTIONS

Some terms....

Order of acquisition : Brown's 14 grammatical morphemes

The Stages of morpho-syntactic development

Stage 1:
o 12-26 mos, MLU 1-2
o 1 st meaningful words, usually don't sound adult-like, reference to most imp.
words of immediate environment (object, actions, people) of immediate interest

o One-syllable length or repeated syllables (like mama, dada or wawa)

o 18-24 months: combine words, rising intonation on single words to ask yes-no
o earlier uses "no", gone", and all gone as NEGATIVES
o Later: "no" and "not" at beginning of word-combinations
o First combinations: agent+object or action+object
o By the end of this stage: uses prepositions "in" and "on"
o And conjunctions to link, e.g. "and"
o Samples: Peyton 18 months:
o Nathan 19 mos. :
o Madeira 21 mos. :

Stage 2:
o 27-30 mos., MLU=2-2.5
o Brown's 14 morphemes begin to emerge
o Overextends use of morphemes e.g. adds /s/ for all plurals, such as "childs"
o Uses pronouns, "I", "this" and "that" earlier, and later in the stage: my, me, mine
and you
o Also uses "have" and "do" as main verbs and "hafta", wanna and gonna as semiauxilary verbs
o Uses NEGATION by "no" and "not" at the beginning of sentences
o Also produces yes/no QUESTIONS using a rising pitch/intonation
o Asks "what", where" and "why" QUESTIONS
o Uses language to make requests, obtain information and to respond
o Sustains topic in conversation for only 1-2 turns, and does use repair strategies if
listener doesn't understand

Sample: Brittany, age 29 mos., Stage 2

Stage 3:
o 31-34 mos, MLU 2.5-3.0
o Uses possessive pronouns and adjectives and demonstratives consistently (you,
yours, she, he, we, this, that, these those)
o Uses "Can", "will" and "do" in their correct conjugations
o "To be": copula and auxiliary w/ mistakes of person and number
o "No" and "not" between subject and predicate to create adult-like forms
o Contracts negatives "can't" and "don't"

o Inverts questions properly "she go bye-bye" becomes "can she.."

o "How" and "who" questions start
o Turntaking 1-2 topics
o Conversational-Repairs still poor
o Sample: Hayes (34 mos):

Stage 4:
o 35-40 mos, 3-3.75
o Grammatical morphemes continue to develop and stabilize
o Consistent in they, us, his her hers and them
o Past tense: Could should and would
o Contractions of negation: "Didn't", "doesn't" "isn't", "aren't"
o "When" questions
o Maintains a topic for more than 2-turns
o Indirect requests--- "can you pick me up?"
o Sample: Nicholas 37 mos, Stage 4

Stage 5:
o 41-46 mos, MLU 3.75-4.5
o 9 of 14 morphemes mastered
o Pronouns: its our, ours, him, myself, yourself, their, theirs
o Subject-verb agreement still difficult
o Negations: contractions "weren't" and "wasn't" , (past tense) "wouldn't" and
o Questions properly inverted
o Tag questions: e.g. "I'm leaving now, ok?"
o Relative clauses: e.g. "That's the plate that I broke"
o Adult-like conversational turn taking
o Sample: Katie

Morphological and syntactic skills in

language samples of pre school aged children
with autism: atypical development?
Park CJ1, Yelland GW, Taffe JR, Gray KM.

Author information
This study investigated whether children with autism have atypical development of
morphological and syntactic skills, including whether they use rote learning to compensate for
impaired morphological processing and acquire grammatical morphemes in an atypical order.
Participants were children aged from 3-6 years who had autism (n = 17), developmental delay
without autism (n = 7), and typically-developing children (n = 19). Language samples were taken
from participants during the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, and
transcripts were coded using the Index of Productive Syntax, and for usage of Brown's
grammatical morphemes. Participants were also administered an elicitation task requiring the
application of inflections to non-words; the Wugs Task. The main finding of this study was that
children with autism have unevenly developed morphological and syntactic sub-skills; they have
skills which are a combination of intact, delayed, and atypical. It was also found that children
with autism and children with developmental delays can acquire and use morphological rules.
The implications of these findings are that, in order to maximize language acquisition for these
children, clinicians need to utilize comprehensive language assessment tools and design
interventions that are tailored to the child's strengths and weaknesses.
Transcript of Brown's Stages of Syntactic and Morphological Development
Stage V
Stage IV
Stage III
Stage II
Stage I
3rd person irregular
he does, she has
Uncontractible auxiliary (the full form of the verb 'to be' when it is an auxiliary verb in a sentence)
Are they swimming?

Contractible copula (the shortened form of the verb 'to be' when it is the only verb in a sentence
She's ready.
They're here.

Contractible auxiliary (the shortened form of the verb 'to be' when it is an auxiliary verb in a sentence)

They're coming.
He's going.

a book, the ball
regular past tense
she jumped
third person regular present tense
the winner takes it
36 - 42 months
MLU- 2.75
28 - 36 months
"in box"
"it going"
MLU- Mean Length of Utterance
15 - 30 months
Brown's Stages of Syntactic and Morphological Development
Typical Expressive Language Development
"Brown's Stages" were identified by Roger Brown 1925-1997 and described in his classic book
The stages provide a framework within which to understand and predict the path that normal expressive
language development usually takes, in terms of morphology and syntax.
is the branch of grammar devoted to the study of the structure or forms of words, primarily through the
use of the
is a traditional term for the study of the rules governing the combination of words to form sentences.
A morpheme is a unit of meaning.

SEND- 1 word = 1 unit of meaning

RESEND- 1 word = 2 units of meaning
Nomination that car That's a car
Recurrence more juice There is more juice
Negation-denial no soo soo I didn't do soo soo
Negation-rejection no more I don't want more
Negationnon-existence birdie go The bird has gone
Action + Agent daddy kiss Daddy is kissing
Action + Object push truck Pushing the truck
Agent + Object man hat The man (wears) a hat
Action + Locative in bath I am in the bath
Entity + Locative dolly bed The dolly is on the bed
Possessor + Possession
(object) Kim car Kim's car
Entity + Attributive water hot The water is hot
Demonstrative + Entity that train Not this train
Semantic Relationship
MLU- 2.25
present progressive
-s plural
"on box"
"my dolls"
irregular past tense
's posessive
man's book
uncontractible copula

Is it mommy?
40 - 46 months
MLU- 3.5
42 - 52+ months
MLU- 4. 0
Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. London: George Allen & Unwin
In http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/