As part of our study of first language acquisition, students in Mrs. Nancy Boyle’s Topics in Linguistics class visited Applewild School’s pre-school class to perform a modified version of a linguistic field study conceived by Jean Berko of MIT. Cushing students interacted with children to glean information of plural and past tense ending acquisition. This gives our students a chance to practice field study techniques, gather primary data, and conduct original research to test linguistic theories of how children acquire morphemes in their first language. Applewild four- and five-years-olds (several children of CA faculty members) are exposed to thoughtful, kind, and focused high school students who are role models for learning, respect, and good citizenship.
In this field study, students set out to discover what morphological rules children exposed to English have. To test, we use nonsense words. If the child can supply the correct plural ending, for instance, to a noun we have made up, she has internalized a working system of the plural endings in English and is able to generalize to new cases and select the right form. “If a child knows that the plural of witch is witches, she may simply have memorized the plural form. If, however, she tells us that the plural of gutch is gutches, we have evidence that he actually knows, albeit unconsciously, one of those rules which the descriptive linguist, too, would set forth in his grammar.” (Berko)
In general terms, during the field study a pair of linguistics students interacts with one child at a time. He or she shows a series of images of made up words and elicits the plural/past tense/diminutive endings from the child. The entire field study lasts about half an hour.
As in past years, this has been a meaningful and fun experience for both the high school and pre-school school students.
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