Spoken and written production of inflectional morphology among L1 Mandarin speakers of English

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Second language (L2) speakers frequently make errors when producing L2 inflectional morphology, but the underlying causes of errors remain unclear. We report three experiments investigating how such errors might arise within the language production system, focusing on L2 speakers whose L1 does not use inflectional morphology to indicate temporal properties of events. L1 Mandarin and L1 English participants produced spoken (Experiments 1 and 2) and written (Experiment 3) event descriptions in English involving different temporal contexts. In both spoken and written production, L1 Mandarin participants’ production of present (3rd person singular -s) and past (-ed) inflections was sensitive to L2 temporal cues, but error-prone, with higher omission rates for featurally complex inflections. These results suggest L2 speakers can acquire representations of L1-absent features, but do not consistently activate these features and their corresponding morphological forms during grammatical and morphophonological encoding. Moreover, articulation cannot solely account for all L2 inflectional errors.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages104250
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Early online date9 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • second language production
  • second language acquisition
  • morphological processing
  • featural complexity


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