Avoiding overgeneralization errors across languages: The Crosslinguistic Acquisition of Sentence Structure (CLASS) project

Muirhead Tower - 121
Thursday 25 April 2019 (15:00-17:00)

How children acquire their native language remains one of the key unsolved problems in cognitive science.

This work addresses a question that lies at the heart of this problem: How do children acquire the abstract generalizations that allow them to produce novel sentences, while avoiding the ungrammatical utterances that result from across-the-board application of these generalizations (e.g., *The clown laughed the man; c.f., The clown made the man laugh)? Previous theories (the entrenchment, preemption and verb semantics hypotheses) have enjoyed some success for English (e.g., Ambridge et al, 2018; Perek & Goldberg, 2017), but remain largely untested for other languages.

In this talk, I present an outline of — and some preliminary findings from — a combined corpus, experimental and computational-modelling project designed to answer this question looking across five languages — English, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese and K’iche’ Mayan — and three age groups (5-6, 9-10 and adults).

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