Lexical entries and rules of language: A multidisciplinary study of German inflection
Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Following much work in linguistic theory, it is hypothesized that the language faculty has a modular structure and consists of two basic components, a lexicon of (structured) entries and a computational system of combinatorial operations to form larger linguistic expressions from lexical entries. This target article provides evidence for the dual nature of the language faculty by describing recent results of a multidisciplinary investigation of German inflection. We have examined: (1) its
... stic representation, focussing on noun plurals and verb inflection (participles), (2) processes involved in the way adults produce and comprehend inflected words, (3) brain potentials generated during the processing of inflected words, and (4) the way children acquire and use inflection. It will be shown that the evidence from all these sources converges and supports the distinction between lexical entries and combinatorial operations. Our experimental results indicate that adults have access to two distinct processing routes, one accessing (irregularly) inflected entries from the mental lexicon and another involving morphological decomposition of (regularly) inflected words into stemϩaffix representations. These two processing routes correspond to the dual structure of the linguistic system. Results from event-related potentials confirm this linguistic distinction at the level of brain structures. In children's language, we have also found these two processes to be clearly dissociated; regular and irregular inflection are used under different circumstances, and the constraints under which children apply them are identical to those of the adult linguistic system. Our findings will be explained in terms of a linguistic model that maintains the distinction between the lexicon and the computational system but replaces the traditional view of the lexicon as a simple list of idiosyncrasies with the notion of internally structured lexical representations.