L2 irregular verb morphology: Exploring behavioral data from intermediate English learners of German as a foreign language using generalized mixed effects models

Main Article Content

Thomas Wagner


This paper examines possible psycholinguistic mechanisms governing stem vowel changes of irregular verbs in intermediate English learners of German as a foreign language (GFL). In Experiment 1, nonce-infinitives embedded in an authentic fictional text had to be inflected for German preterite, thus testing possible analogy driven pattern associations. Experiment 2 explored the psycholinguistic reality of the so-called apophonic path by prompting two inflections for one given nonce-word. Data were analyzed using generalized mixed effects models accounting for within-subject as well as within-item variance. The results of Experiment 1 and 2 support the notion of a pattern associator and yield only scarce evidence for the psycholinguistic reality of a universal apophonic path. Therefore, the organization of irregular verb morphology in the mental lexicon of intermediate GFL learners might best be captured by the linguistic notion of structured lexical entries as well as the psycholinguistic mechanism of an analogy-based pattern associator.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Wagner, T. (2017). L2 irregular verb morphology: Exploring behavioral data from intermediate English learners of German as a foreign language using generalized mixed effects models. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 7(3), 535-556. https://doi.org/10.14746/ssllt.2017.7.3.9
Author Biography

Thomas Wagner, University College of Education, Linz, Austria



Thomas Wagner is Assistant Professor in SLA and Applied Linguistics at the University College of Education Upper Austria. He holds a PhD in second language acquisition from the University of Siegen, Germany, and has worked as a school teacher and university lecturer in English in the UK, Ireland, Germany, and Austria. His research areas include morphology in second language acquisition, the mental lexicon, foreign language aptitude, as well as variation theory in learning studies. Contact details: Department of English, Institute of Secondary School Education, University College of Education Upper Austria, Kaplanhofstrasse 40, A-4020 Linz, Austria


  1. Aha, D. W., Kibler, D., & Albert, M. K. (1991). Instance-based learning algorithms. Machine Learning, 6, 37-66. doi: 10.1007/BF00153759
  2. Albright, A. (2009). Modeling analogy as probabilistic grammar. In J. P. Blevins & J. Blevins (Eds.), Analogy in grammar. Form and acquisition (pp. 185-204). New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Albright, A., & Hayes, B. (2003). Rules vs. analogy in English past tenses: A computational/experimental study. Cognition, 90(2), 119-161. doi: 10.1016/S0010-0277(03)00146-X
  4. Anderson, S. R. (1988). Morphological theory. In F. J. Newmeyer (Ed.), Linguistics: The Cambridge survey. Vol. I. Linguistic theory: Foundations (pp. 146-191). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Baayen, R. H. (2003). Probabilistic approaches to morphology. In R. Bod, J. B. Hay, & S. Jannedy (Eds.), Probabilistic linguistics (pp. 229-287). Cambridge, MA.
  6. Baayen, R. H., & Hay, J. B. (2005). Shifting paradigms: Gradient structure in morphology. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(7), 342-348. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2005.04.002
  7. Baayen, R. H., Davidson, D. J., & Bates, D. M. (2008). Mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language, 59(4), 390-412. doi: org/10.1016/j.jml.2007.12.005
  8. Barr, D. J., Levy, R., Scheepers, C., & Tily, H. J. (2013). Random effects structure for confirmatory hypothesis testing: Keep it maximal. Journal of Memory and Language, 68(3), 255-278. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2012.11.001
  9. Bates D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S. (2015). Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software, 67(1), 1-48. doi:10.18637/jss.v067.i01
  10. Becker, T. (1990). Analogie und morphologische Theorie. München: Wilhelm Fink.
  11. Berko, J. (1958). The child’s learning of English morphology. Word, 14, 150-77. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00437956.1958.11659661
  12. Bittner, A. (1996). Starke ‘schwache’ Verben, schwache ‘starke’ Verben. Deutsche Verbflexion und Natürlichkeit. Tübingen: Stauffenburg.
  13. Burgess, A. (1972). A clockwork orange. London: Penguin.
  14. Bybee, J. (1988). Morphology as lexical organisation. In M. Hammond & M. Noonam (Eds.), Theoretical approaches to morphology (pp. 119-141). San Diego: Academic Press.
  15. Bybee, J. (1995). Regular morphology and the lexicon. Language and Cognitive Processes, 10(5), 425-455. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01690969508407111
  16. Bybee, J., & Newman, J. (1995). Are stem changes as natural as affixes? Linguistics, 33(4), 633-654. doi: 10.1515/ling.1995.33.4.633
  17. Bybee, J., & Moder, C. L. (1983). Morphological classes as natural categories. Language, 59, 251-270. doi: 10.2307/413574
  18. Bybee, J., & Slobin, D. I. (1982). Rules and schemas in the development and use of the English past tense. Language, 58, 265-289. doi: 10.2307/414099
  19. Clahsen, H. (1997). The representation of German participles in the German mental lexicon: Evidence for the dual-mechanism model. In G. Booij & J. v. Marle (Eds.), Yearbook of morphology 1996 (pp. 73-96). Dodrecht: Kluwer Academic.
  20. Clahsen, H. (1999). Lexical entries and rules of language: A multidisciplinary study of German inflection. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 991-1060. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X99002228
  21. Clahsen, H., Eisenbeiß, S., & Sonnenstuhl-Henning, I. (1997). Morphological structure and the processing of inflected words. Theoretical Linguistics, 23, 201-249. doi: 10.1515/thli.1997.23.3.201
  22. Clahsen, H., Felser, C., Neubauer, K., Sato, M., & Silva, R. (2010). Morphological structure in native and nonnative language processing. Language Learning, 60, 21-43. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728912000648
  23. Clahsen, H., Hadler, M., & Weyerts, H. (2004). Speeded production of inflected words in children and adults. Journal Child Language, 31(3), 683-712. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0305000904006506
  24. Council of Europe (2001). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  25. Cunnings, I., & Finlayson, I. (2015). Mixed effects modeling and longitudinal data analysis. In L. Plonsky (Ed.), Advancing quantitative methods in second language research (pp. 159-181). New York: Routledge.
  26. Cunnings, I., & Linck, J. A. (2015). The utility and application of mixed-effects models in second language research. Language Learning, 65(1), 185-207. doi: 10.1111/lang.12117
  27. Daelemans, W., Zavrel, J., van der Sloot, K., & van den Bosch, A. (1999). TiMBL: Tilburg Memory Based Learner, version 2.0, reference guide. Induction of linguistic knowledge technical report. Tilburg, Netherlands: ILK Research Group.
  28. Eddington, D. (2000). Analogy and the dual-route model of morphology. Lingua, 110(4), 281-298. doi:
  29. Eddington, D. (2004). Issues in modelling language processing analogically. Lingua, 114(7), 849-871. doi: 10.1016/S0024-3841(03)00063-9
  30. Godfroid, A., & Uggen, M. S. (2013). Attention to irregular verbs by beginning learners of German. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 35(2), 291-322. doi: 10.1017/S0272263112000897
  31. Goebel, R., & Indefrey, P. (2000). A recurrent network with short-term memory capacity learning the German s-plural. In P. Broeder & J. Murre (Eds.), Models of language acquisition. Inductive and deductive approaches (pp.177-200). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  32. Gor, K., & Chernigovskaya, T. (2005). Formal instruction and the acquisition of verbal morphology. In A. Housen & M. Pierrard (Eds.), Investigations in instructed second language acquisition (pp. 131-166). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  33. Gries, S. T. (2015). The most under-used statistical method in corpus linguistics: Multi-level (and mixed-effects) models. Corpora, 10(1), 95-125. doi: 10.3366/cor.2015.0068
  34. Hahne, A., Müller, J., & Clahsen, H. (2006). Morphological processing in a second language: Behavioural and event-related potential evidence for storage and decomposition. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, 121-134. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/089892906775250067
  35. Hothorn, T., Hornik, K., & Zeileis, A. (2006). Unbiased recursive partitioning: A conditional inference framework. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics, 15(3), 651-674. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1198/106186006X133933
  36. Jaeger, T. F. (2008). Categorical data analysis: Away from ANOVAs (transformation or not) and towards logit mixed models. Journal of Memory and Language, 59(4), 434-446. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2007.11.007
  37. Köpcke, K.-M. (1998). Prototypisch starke und schwache Verben in der deutschen Gegenwartssprache. Germanistische Linguistik, 141-142, 45-60.
  38. Lemhöfer, K., & Radach, R. (2009). Task context effects in bilingual nonword processing. Experimental Psychology, 56(1), 41-47. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169.56.1.41
  39. Lück, M., Hahne, A., & Clahsen, H. (2006). Brain potentials to morphologically complex words during listening. Brain Research, 1077, 144-152. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2006.01.030
  40. Marusch, T., von der Malsbur, T., Bastiaanse, R., & Burchert, F. (2012). Tense morphology in German agrammatism. The production of regular, irregular and mixed verbs. The Mental Lexicon, 7(3), 351-380. doi: 10.1075/ml.7.3.05mar
  41. Murphy, V. A. (2004). Dissociable systems in second language inflectional morphology. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26(3), 433-459. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263104263033
  42. Neubauer, K., & Clahsen, H. (2009). Decomposition of inflected words in a second language: An experimental study of German participles. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 31, 403-435. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0272263109090354
  43. Nübling, D., Dammel, A., Duke, J., & Szczepaniak, R. (2006). Historische Sprachwissenschaft des Deutschen: Eine Einführung in die Prinzipien des Sprachwandels. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
  44. Orsolini M., & Marslen-Wilson, W. D. (1997). Universals in morphological representation: Evidence from Italian. Language and Cognitive Processes, 12, 1-47. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/016909697386899
  45. Penke, M. (2006). Flexion im mentalen Lexikon. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
  46. Penke, M., Wimmer, E., Hennies, J., Hess, M., & Rothweiler, M. (2014). Inflectional morphology in German hearing-impaired children. Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, 41(1), 9-26. doi: 10.3109/14015439.2014.940382
  47. Pinker, S. (1999).Words and rules. The ingredients of language. London: Phoenix.
  48. Pinker, S., & Ullman, M. T. (2002). Combination and structure, not gradedness, is the issue. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 472-474. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1364-6613(02)02013-2
  49. Pliatsikas, C., & Marinis, T. (2013). Processing of regular and irregular past tense morphology in highly proficient L2 learners of English: A self-paced reading study. Applied Psycholinguistics, 34, 943-970. doi: 10.1017/S0142716412000082
  50. Prasada, S., & Pinker, S. (1993). Generalization of regular and irregular morphological patterns. Language and Cognitive Processes, 8, 1-56. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0169096930840694
  51. R Core Team (2016). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Retrieved from https://www.R-project.org/
  52. Ramscar, M. J. A. (2002). The role of meaning in inflection: Why the past tense does not require a rule. Cognitive Psychology, 45, 45-94. doi: 10.1016/S0010-0285(02)00001-4
  53. Rosch, E. (1975). Cognitive representations of semantic categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 104(3), 192-232. doi: doi.apa.org/journals/xge/104/3/192.pdf
  54. Rosch, E., & Mervis, C. B. (1975). Family resemblance: Studies in the internal structure of categories. Cognitive Psychology, 7, 573-605. doi: 10.1016/0010-0285(75)90024-9
  55. Ruh, N., & Westermann, G. (2008). A Single-mechanism dual-route model of German verb inflection. In B. C. Love, K. McRae, & V. M. Sloutsky (Eds.), Proceedings of the 30th annual conference of the cognitive science society (pp. 2209-2214). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
  56. Ségéral, P., & Scheer, T. (1998). A generalized theory of ablaut: The case of modern German strong verbs. In R. Fabri, A. Ortmann, & T. Parodi (Eds.), Models of inflection (pp. 28-59). Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  57. Skousen, R. (1989). Analogical modeling of language. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.
  58. Smolka, E., Khader, P. H., Wiese, R., Zwitserlood, P., & Rösler, F. (2013). Electrophysiological evidence for the continuous processing of linguistic categories of regular and irregular verb inflection in German. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25(8), 1284-1304. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00384
  59. Smolka, E., Zwitserlood, P., & Rösler, F. (2007). Stem access in regular and irregular inflection: Evidence from German participles. Journal of Memory and Language, 57(3), 325-347. doi: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2007.04.005
  60. Strobach, T., & Schönpflug, U. (2011). Can a connectionist model explain the processing of regularly and irregularly inflected words in German as L1 and L2? International Journal of Bilingualism, 15(4), 446-465. doi: 10.1177/1367006911403205
  61. Thiele, J., & Markussen, B. (2012). Potential of GLMM in modelling invasive spread. CAB Reviews, 7, 1-10. doi: 10.1079/PAVSNNR20127016
  62. Trompelt, H., Bordag, D., & Pechmann, T. (2013). (Ir)regularity of verbs revisited: Evidence for lexical entry complexity. The Mental Lexicon, 8(1), 26-52. doi: 10.1075/ml.8.1.02tro
  63. Ullman, M. T. (2001). A neurocognitive perspective on language: The declarative/procedural model. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 2(10), 717-726. doi: 10.1038/35094573
  64. Wagner, T. (2010). Interlanguage morphology. Irregular verbs in the mental lexicon of German-English interlanguage speakers. Tübingen: Narr-Francke-Attempto.
  65. Westermann, G., Willshaw, D., & Penke, M. (1999). A constructivist neural network model of German verb inflections in agrammatic aphasia. In Proceedings of ICANN99 (pp. 916-921). Edinburgh: IET Publishing.
  66. Whitaker, H. A. (2006). Words in the mind, words in the brain: Preface to inaugural issue of The Mental Lexicon. The Mental Lexicon, 1(1), 3-5. doi: 10.1075/ml.1.1.02wh
  67. Wiese, B. (2008): Form and function of verbal ablaut in contemporary standard German. In R. Sackmann (Ed.), Explorations in integrational linguistics. Four essays on German, French, and Guaraní (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 285) (pp. 97-151). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  68. Wiese, R. (2000). The phonology of German. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  69. Wunderlich, D. (1996). Minimalist morphology: The role of paradigms. In G. Booij & J. van Marle (Eds.), Yearbook of morphology 1995 (pp. 93-114). Dodrecht: Kluwer Academic.
  70. Wunderlich, D., & Fabri, R. (1995). Minimalist morphology: An approach to inflection. Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft, 14(2), 236-294. doi: 10.1515/zfsw.1995.14.2.236