Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy ETDs

Publication Date



The first major purpose of this study was to find out how Brazilian children internalize some Portuguese morpho­logical rules. The second major objective was to compare the findings with findings from other languages and with universals in the acquisition of morphology.

A research instrument was constructed to measure the productive aspects of substantive plurals, regular and irregular verb inflections, diminutives and augmentatives, and compound words. Real and nonsense words were used.

The population consisted of middle-class children attending private schools in the city of Rio de Janeiro. A sample of 210 children was randomly selected: 30 in each age group from 4 to 10, an equal number of boys and girls.

The results showed that performance increased across the age groups and that there was no significant difference between the performance of boys and girls. It was also found that children did better with real words than with nonsense words. A regular and systematic pattern in the learning of the different rules emerged, suggesting that children learn the rules in an almost invariant order.

Taking as criterion for the age of acquisition the point where 90 percent of the answers applying a given rule were correct, it was found that, in general, verb inflections are mastered at the age of 8, diminutives and augmentatives at the age of 9, and plurals at the age of 9 and 10. The etymological explanation of compound words had not been mastered at the age of 10. Three rules did not reach the 90 percent criterion in the age groups tested: the plural of real words ending in asyllabic -u, the plural of nonsense words ending in -z, and the preterite inflection of the third conjugation nonsense verb.

The comparison with findings for other languages showed more similarities than differences. It was suggested that the differences were due to the linguistic complexity of the languages involved and to differences in the subjects socio­economic classes.

The universals in the acquisition of morphology seemed to be in operation in the learning of Portuguese by Brazilian children.

Different kinds of linguistic research were suggested so that a broader understanding of the Portuguese language acquisition process may be attained.

Document Type




Degree Name

Elementary Education

Level of Degree


Department Name

Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy

First Committee Member (Chair)

Bernard Spolsky

Second Committee Member

Carol Elizabeth Conrad

Third Committee Member

David Wayne Darling

Fourth Committee Member

Mari-Luci Jaramillo

Fifth Committee Member

Miles Vernon Zintz


Sixth Committee Member - Gerald Marc Slavin