JCPSLP Vol 18 No. 1Mar 2016

English most frequently used in everyday conversations (Gupta, 1994). The two forms of English spoken in Singapore differ from each other markedly. SStdE is similar to other forms of Standard English (StdE) with some variation in vocabulary and phonology, whereas SCE has marked differences across form, content and use (Gupta, 1994). SStdE is the primary language of instruction in schools and kindergartens. The use of SStdE is associated with higher socioeconomic status and educational level (Gupta; Singapore Department of Statistics, 2010) so consideration of a child’s language exposure and dominant language is a critical factor as exposure to SStdE rather than SCE, or Mandarin rather than SCE, is likely to result in quite different language profiles. Omission of morphological markers is typical in the dialectal form of English spoken in Singapore (Brebner, 2010; Brebner, McCormack, & Rickard Liow, 2016; Gupta, 1994; Deterding & Poedjosoedarmo, 2001). In SStdE, regular plurals are indicated using the “-s”marker on the noun, but in SCE it is more commonly omitted or indicated using a quantifier plus the noun (e.g., “two cat” rather than “cats”; Deterding & Poedjosoedarmo). However, such omissions would be a potential indicator of language impairment for monolingual English speakers. Aims The aim of this research was to explore the marking of noun plurality in English for English–Mandarin bilingual Singaporean preschoolers by language dominance and by age group. We hypothesised that that there would be differences in the marking of noun plurals with “-s” and quantifiers between groups of children with different main home languages and across age groups. Method Ethical clearance for this study was obtained through Flinders University and National University of Singapore and permission to enter the kindergartens from each centre’s principal. Participants English–Mandarin bilingual Chinese children were selected for this study as they are the majority ethnic group in Singapore representing approximately 75% of the population (Singapore Department of Statistics, 2010). Participants (n = 515) were aged between 3 years 9 months and 6 years 8 months, and were divided into two language background groups according to dominant language spoken in the home. These groups were subdivided into six

age groups (see Table 1). Group assignment was based on age and parent/carer report of main language spoken by the child, supported by teacher report for dominant language. Through this process, data from nine children were eliminated due to inconsistency in identification of language dominance and 25 children eliminated as their age fell outside the identified groupings. This resulted in a total data set from 481 children. The groups were fairly equally distributed for gender and language dominance, with 236 children identified as speaking mainly English in the home (EL1) and 245 children speaking mainly Mandarin in the home (ML1). Materials The expressive language samples in English were obtained by administering the Singapore English Action Picture Test (SEAPT; Brebner, 2002). Noun plural marking is known to be context dependent in SCE, so this assessment was chosen as (a) it provides several structured opportunities for the marking of noun plurals, allowing for some influence on the context of the required utterances and (b) it has been shown to be culturally and linguistically appropriate for Singaporean children (Brebner, 2010). Procedure Participants were asked to describe a series of 10 pictures from the SEAPT (plus three trial items) presented in the same order, prompted by specific questions designed to elicit information on grammatical targets and expressive vocabulary, e.g., “What is he doing?”The children were tested individually in a quiet area by the principal researcher and responses audio-recorded for subsequent transcription and analysis. Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts software (Language Analysis Laboratory, 1984) was used to code the language samples for each child for the use of noun plural “-s”marker and use of a quantifier to indicate plurality (e.g., “two cat” for “cats”), enabling a count of the use of these markers. Morphological marking in the English spoken in Singapore is context dependent and markers are used only in obligatory contexts and omission at other times is acceptable. There were eight consistent opportunities for use of the marker in an obligatory context in all test items. Results For the analyses of this cross-sectional study of elicited language samples, we compared the EL1 and ML1 bilingual children’s use of the plural “-s”marker, and of use of quantifiers to indicate plurality. Descriptive statistics are provided in Table 2. Use of Plural “-s” A 2 x 6 factorial ANOVA (i.e., two language dominant groups across six age groups) for the use of the plural “-s” marker revealed significant main effects for language dominant group (F (1,480) = 73.144, p < .001, n p 2 = 0.135) and age group (F (5,480) = 8.446, p < 001, n p 2 = 0.083) and a significant interaction between main language and age group (F (5,480) = 4.302, p < .001, n p 2 = 0.044). This interaction effect means that there is a different pattern in the acquisition of plurals between the two main language dominance groups as hypothesised. That is, the EL1 group demonstrated a significant increase in use of the plural “-s” marker to indicate plurality, increasing across age groups but the ML1 group did not demonstrate such increases (see Figure 1).

Table 1. Number of participants, age group, and language Agegroup Age range (year;months) Number of EL1 participants

Number of ML1 participants


























JCPSLP Volume 18, Number 1 2016

Made with