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wug test


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A test designed to investigate the acquisition of plural-formation and other rules of grammar. A child is presented with an imaginary object and is told, ‘This is a wug’. Then a second instance is presented, and the child is asked what the two are called. The correct answer is wugs, pronounced with a voiced /z/ sound, as in dogs, because the plural-forming letter follows a voiced consonant /g/. After a voiceless consonant such as /t/, the plural-forming letter should be a voiceless /s/, as in cats, and after a sibilant, an additional syllable should have a voiced /z/, as in verses. To investigate understanding of other grammatical rules, the test includes questions such as ‘What do you call a man who zibs?’ the correct answer being a zibber. Even very young children are able to produce correct plurals, past tenses, and possessives of words that they have never heard before, showing that they have internalized abstract linguistic rules. The test was introduced by the US psychologist Jean Berko (born 1931, later called Jean Berko Gleason) in an article in the journal Word in 1958. See also assimilation (3), implicit learning. [A deliberately constructed nonsense word]


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