Describing the acquisition of determiners in English: A growth modeling approach

Ahmad Abu-Akel, Alison L. Bailey, Yeow Meng Thum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper, based on naturalistic data, describes the acquisitional course and use of the articles a and the in young English-speaking children (18-61 months), with special emphasis on the role of individual variation. A growth modeling approach to the data reveals that children's individual acquisition schedules are similar in trend, but vary in the rate at which they omit determiners at a given point of time. This picture suggests that an analysis that presumes homogeneous development will seriously misrepresent the fluctuations between and within individuals. Interestingly, this variation does not reflect a variation in children's abilities to use determiners correctly - irrespective of the rate in which they used determiners, children seldom used determiners incorrectly. The analysis also reveals that children's optional omission of determiners in obligatory contexts, beginning at 18 months of age, gradually decreases on average by 3-4% a month until 36 months of age, and thereafter plunges by a factor of 10 to an average of 0.3% per month. At 36 month of age the majority of children use determiners at a near-mastery level (Brown, 1973). These findings provide a useful framework for theorizing about possible mechanisms underlying the nature of early language development pre- and post-36 months of age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-424
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2004
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Gordon Wells for making the data reported here available through CHILDES. We also thank Ani Moughamian for research assistance. Alison L.Bailey acknowledges research assistantship support from the College of Letters and Science, UCLA. 1Los Angeles, California. 2Department of Education, University of California, Los Angeles. 3To whom all correspondence should be addressed: 659 Midvale Ave., #1, Los Angeles, CA 90024. email:


  • determiners
  • growth modeling
  • individual variation
  • language acquisition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology (all)
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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