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  • Ramscar Lab 20:32 on 12.13.2013 Permalink
    Tags: , , Nativism, Overregularization, ,   

    The many curious cases of mouses 

    Error and expectation in language learning: The curious absence of ‘mouses’ in adult speech has just come out in Language, and opens, enticingly enough, with a quote from the Silver Blaze:

    Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

    Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime”.

    Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the nighttime”.

    Holmes: “That was the curious incident”.

    –Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    For more puzzles on learning, morphology, and negative evidence, we turn to the abstract:

    As children learn their mother tongues, they make systematic errors. For example, English speaking children regularly say “mouses” rather than “mice”. Because children’s errors aren’t explicitly corrected, it has been argued that children could never learn to make the transition to adult language based on the evidence available to them, and thus that learning even simple aspects of grammar is logically impossible without recourse to innate, language specific constraints. Here, we examine the role children’s expectations play in language learning, and present a model of plural noun learning that generates a surprising prediction: At a given point in learning, exposure to regular plurals (e.g. rats) can decrease children’s tendency to overregularize irregular plurals (e.g. mouses). Intriguingly, the model predicts that the same exposure should have the opposite effect earlier in learning. Consistent with this, we show that testing memory for items with regular plural labels contributes to a decrease in irregular plural overregularization in six-year-olds, but an increase in four-year-olds. Our model and results suggest that children’s overregularization errors both arise and resolve themselves as a consequence of the distribution of error in the linguistic environment, and that far from presenting a logical puzzle for learning, they are inevitable consequences of it.

  • Ramscar Lab 08:16 on 02.28.2012 Permalink
    Tags: , , Nativism, ,   

    Most Read Articles 

    In 2011, “Learning language from the input” was one of Cognitive Psychology‘s twenty most read papers.  It was in the top five for papers published that year.  Read it here, or take a glance at the companion article, now in press at Language and Cognitive Processes.

    Do the production and interpretation of patterns of plural forms in noun-noun compounds reveal the workings of innate constraints that govern morphological processing? The results of previous studies on compounding have been taken to support a number of important theoretical claims: first, that there are fundamental differences in the way that children and adults learn and process regular and irregular plurals, second, that these differences reflect formal constraints that govern the way the way regular and irregular plurals are processed in language, and third, that these constraints are unlikely to be the product of learning. In a series of seven experiments, we critically assess the evidence that is cited in support of these arguments. The results of our experiments provide little support for the idea that substantively different factors govern the patterns of acquisition, production and interpretation patterns of regular and irregular plural forms in compounds. Once frequency differences between regular and irregular plurals are accounted for, we find no evidence of any qualitative difference in the patterns of interpretation and production of regular and irregular plural nouns in compounds, in either adults or children. Accordingly, we suggest that the pattern of acquisition of both regular and irregular plurals in compounds is consistent with a simple account, in which children learn the conventions that govern plural compounding using evidence that is readily available in the distribution patterns of adult speech.

  • Ramscar Lab 15:35 on 02.26.2011 Permalink
    Tags: , , Nativism, , , Thought Experiments   

    Learning Language from the Input 

    Learning Language from the Input: Why Innate Constraints Can’t Explain Noun Compounding” is now ‘trending’ on SciVerse.  The paper, which was published in the February edition of Cognitive Psychology, was one of the journal’s top 5 most downloaded articles in the last three months.  The 7-experiment paper gives a detailed account of why children’s learning reflects the statistical patterns seen in the input and not, as has been frequently claimed, the working of a native rule-based constraint.  If you are interested in our corpus-based research, you may wish to skip to Exp. 7 and our subsequent analyses (pp. 28-35).

    One of our favorite quotes from the paper?

    “Thought-experiments, by their very nature, run into serious problems when it comes to making hypothesis blind observations, and because of this, it seems reasonable to suggest that their results should be afforded less credence in considering the phenomena themselves.” (p. 35)

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