Acquisition of English Morphology by a Japanese School-aged Child: A Longitudinal Study

| March 10, 2014
Acquisition of English Morphology by a Japanese School-aged Child: A Longitudinal Study

Keywords: Longitudinal study, English L2 morphology, plural -s order, Processability Theory, Japanese children


Yumiko Yamaguchi
Tokyo Denki University, Japan

Satomi Kawaguchi
University of Western Sydney, Australia


Yumiko Yamaguchi, PhD, is a Lecturer in the Department of English Language at Tokyo Denki University. She has taught English language to students of all ages in Japan and Japanese language to high school and university students in Australia. Her current research interests include second language acquisition and teaching English as a foreign language.

Satomi Kawaguchi, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney where she teaches second language acquisition (SLA) and Japanese language, as well as postgraduate research methods (in TESOL and SLA). Her research includes acquisition of English L2, Japanese L2 and technological intervention in language teaching and learning.


This study investigates longitudinally how a Japanese school-aged child develops English second language (L2) morphology in a naturalistic environment in Australia within the framework of Processability Theory (PT) (Pienemann, 1998; Pienemann, Di Biase & Kawaguchi, 2005). Development is a longitudinal process, yet longitudinal studies looking at L2 development are rare (cf. Doughty & Long, 2003), so this study offers an opportunity for verification on longitudinal data of PT’s hypothesis for English morphological development, which is still based primarily on two cross-sectional studies, that is, Johnston (1985) and Pienemann and Mackey (1993). The present study also addresses controversial issues recently raised by Charters, Jansen & Dao (2011) based, again, on a cross-sectional study of Vietnamese L1 primary school children learning English whose findings contradict the progression predicted by PT on the specific path learners follow in the acquisition of L2 morphological plural markers. The current longitudinal study of a Japanese L1 child looks at this issue in the context of a detailed description of developmental sequences and accuracy changes of verbal and nominal morphology over two years. Utilising language games and storytelling tasks, the child’s spontaneous English speech production was audio recorded at regular intervals over two years from age 5 years 8 months to 7 years 8 months. Results show that the child acquired morphological structures compatible with PT stages (Pienemann, et al, 2005; Di Biase & Kawaguchi, 2012) starting at 50% or lower accuracy at emergence point and attaining high accuracy for all morphemes by the end of the longitudinal study. This is unlike Jia and Fuse’s (2007) findings whose informants, after five years, attained an 80% accuracy rate with all morphemes except for past tense marker –ed. The accuracy of all morphemes investigated in this study improved over time, albeit with different patterns of improvement for different morphemes, indicating that it is appropriate to differentiate emergence point from native-like behaviour.

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