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Lecture | LUCL Colloquium: Spring 2014

LUCL Colloquium: Learning a Complex Grammar

  • Fenna Poletiek (LIBC, Universiteit Leiden)
Friday 25 April 2014
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden
Room 147

Facilitation Effects of Starting Small and Semantic Biases on Learning a Complex Grammar.

A Multi Method Approach


How we possibly can (learn to)  understand a sentence like The dog the girl walks barks, is still a mystery.  One solution is that we don’t learn it. Rather, we –humans- have a predisposition to understand this type of complex hierarchical recursive constructions. Without disputing this possibility, we might explore how far can we get assuming that children actually do learn this type of constructions merely from their linguistic environment.  If so, what type of information might help them, apart from the linguistic utterances per se.  I will discuss two factors. First the Starting Small effect:  The fact that the  sample of linguistic stimuli they are exposed to is not random, but increases gradually in complexity over time.  Second, the influence of semantic biases: the fact that the utterances are biased towards observed referents in the environment and towards frequently occurring relations between these referents might crucially enhance grammar learning. That is, it might be helpful that the input contains sentences like: the dog barks rather than the dog laughs, and the man talks rather than the dog talks? I will present some experimental data with artificial language and natural language suggesting that these factors matter, indeed. In addition, statistical models of the two factors provide an explanation of why they might work.

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