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Gender Might Have a Say in How Your Child Speaks

at remembering irregular past-tenses of verbs, like “held”, since these words are memorized in declarative memory. And if girls remember “held” better than boys, they should make fewer errors like “holded”, since these “over-regularization” errors are made when children can’t remember irregular past-tenses, and so resort to combing the verb with an –ed ending, just as they do for regular verbs like “walked”.

So they studied how a group of 10 boys and 15 girls, age 2 to 5, used regular and irregular past-tense forms in their normal speech. To their surprise, and contrary to their predictions, the researchers discovered that the girls over-regularized far more than boys.

They then investigated which verbs the girls made the mistakes on, and found an association between the number of similar sounding regular past-tense verbs, and the particular verb that was over-regularized. For example, girls tended to say “holded” or “blowed” because many other rhyming verbs use the regular past-tense form (such as folded, molded, and flowed, rowed, stowed, respectively).

The researchers say this kind analogy-based processing suggests the girls were relying on their declarative memory to create the past tense. “This memory is not just a rote list of words, but underlies common patterns between words, and can be used to generalize these patterns,” Ullman said. “In this case, the girls had memorized the regular past tenses of rhyming words, and were generalizing these patterns to new words, resulting in over-regularization errors” such as “holded” and “blowed”.

In contrast, for the boys there was no association between the number of similar sounding regular past-tense verbs, and the particular verbs that were over-regularized. So the boys did not make more over-regularizations on verbs like “holded” or “blowed” that have many rhyming regular past-tenses. This suggests, Ullman said, that the boys were not forming these words in dec
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