Regularization (linguistics)

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In linguistics, regularization is a phenomenon in language acquisition and language development, whereby irregular forms in morphology, syntax, etc., are replaced by regular ones. Examples are "gooses" instead of "geese" in child speech and replacement of the Middle English plural form for "cow", "kine", with "cows". [1]

Erroneous regularization is also called overregularization. In overregularization the regular ways of modifying or connecting words are mistakenly applied to words that require irregular modifications or connections. It is a normal effect observed in the language of beginner and intermediate language-learners, whether native-speaker children or foreign-speaker adults. Because most natural languages have some irregular forms, moving beyond overregularization is a part of mastering them. Usually learner's brains move beyond overregularization naturally, as a consequence of being immersed in the language.

The same person may sometimes overregularize and sometimes say the correct form. Native-speaker adults can overregularize, but this does not happen often.

Models to explain overregularization[edit]

Dual-mechanism models[edit]

In these models, two mechanisms (the rule and the memory of correct forms) are at work. For example, the rule in English for forming a past-tense form is to add -ed. In cases where recall from memory instantly retrieves the form, the brain does not need to execute the rule, and skips execution. In cases where retrieval doesn't happen fast enough, the rule is executed. The more practice the speaker gets with the language, the more reliable is the retrieval.

These models can explain why the same person may sometimes overregularize and sometimes say the correct form. A child that already knows the word bought may occasionally say buyed when retrieval fails to work well. The next time, retrieval works well, and she says bought correctly.

These models also explain why native-speaker adults rarely overregularize. They are so thoroughly practiced in the language that retrieval rarely fails.

Connectionist models[edit]

Comparison and contrast with phonetic overcompensation[edit]

Phonetic overcompensation, one form of hypercorrection, can be compared and contrasted with overregularization.

In both cases, a learner must master the automatic overriding of a rule to the point that it happens unconsciously and instantly—one case being phonetic, the other being morphologic. (The neurologic mechanisms of how that happens are still being investigated. Perhaps the brain needs practice in sidestepping the rule entirely as the needed objects [e.g., phonetic strings or past-tense inflected verb forms] are called directly instead of being derived on-the-fly via the rule.)

Native-speaker children do not make phonetic overcompensation errors in the same manner or degree that foreign-speaker adults do, because they do not carry the baggage of an earlier language's differences. But it does not seem correct to say that overcompensation cannot happen at all to a monolingual speaker, because some minor tongue-twisting and some minor Freudian slips could possibly involve neurologic processes that are analogous to phonetic overcompensation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hudson, Grover (1999). Essential Introductory Linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-20304-4.