Adam and Chris Heffner in LL&D

Now in Language Learning & Development from Adam Liter, The Interpretation of Plural Morphology and (Non-)Obligatory Number Marking: an Argument from Artificial Language Learning, co-authored with 2017 alum Chris Heffner and former teacher at Michigan State Cristina Schmitt, herself a 1996 alum. The article reports a study that examined whether and how speakers of English, which obligatorily encodes number in the noun phrase, learn an artificial language where number is only optionally marked on the noun phrase. It found that English speakers could learn a system with optional number marking, treating number-neutral noun phrases as compatible with both plural and singular interpretations. The results are also consistent with the hypothesis that the learners interpret the plural marker as meaning “more than one”, unlike in English. Taken together, these results suggest that the differences in interpretation of the plural morphemes cross-linguistically may depend on properties of the available alternative in the input and/or the learning system and are therefore not just an arbitrary pairing of form and meaning.