According to classical arguments, language learning is both facilitated and constrained by cognitive biases. These biases are reflected in linguistic typology—the distribution of linguistic patterns across the world's languages—and can be probed with artificial grammar experiments on child and adult learners. Beginning with a widely successful approach to typology (Optimality Theory), and adapting techniques from computational approaches to statistical learning, we develop a Bayesian model of cognitive biases and show that it accounts for the detailed pattern of results of artificial (...) grammar experiments on noun-phrase word order (Culbertson, Smolensky, & Legendre, 2012). Our proposal has several novel properties that distinguish it from prior work in the domains of linguistic theory, computational cognitive science, and machine learning. This study illustrates how ideas from these domains can be synthesized into a model of language learning in which biases range in strength from hard (absolute) to soft (statistical), and in which language-specific and domain-general biases combine to account for data from the macro-level scale of typological distribution to the micro-level scale of learning by individuals. (shrink)
Mental representations have continuous as well as discrete, combinatorial properties. For example, while predominantly discrete, phonological representations also vary continuously; this is reflected by gradient effects in instrumental studies of speech production. Can an integrated theoretical framework address both aspects of structure? The framework we introduce here, Gradient Symbol Processing, characterizes the emergence of grammatical macrostructure from the Parallel Distributed Processing microstructure (McClelland, Rumelhart, & The PDP Research Group, 1986) of language processing. The mental representations that emerge, Distributed Symbol Systems, (...) have both combinatorial and gradient structure. They are processed through Subsymbolic Optimization–Quantization, in which an optimization process favoring representations that satisfy well-formedness constraints operates in parallel with a distributed quantization process favoring discrete symbolic structures. We apply a particular instantiation of this framework, λ-Diffusion Theory, to phonological production. Simulations of the resulting model suggest that Gradient Symbol Processing offers a way to unify accounts of grammatical competence with both discrete and continuous patterns in language performance. (shrink)
Young French children freely produce subject pronouns by the age of 2. However, by age 2 and a half they fail to interpret 3rd person pronouns in an experimental setting designed to select a referent among three participants (speaker, hearer, and other). No such problems are found with 1st and 2nd person pronouns. We formalize our analysis of these empirical results in terms of direction-sensitive optimizations, showing that uni-directionality of optimization, when combined with non-adult-like constraint rankings, explains the general acquisition (...) pattern of 3rd person pronouns. Building on a specific analysis of assigning 3rd person reference by computing over alternatives (Heim 1991 ), we show that adult interpretation does not require bidirectional OT although it is fully compatible with it. What matters for comprehension in the domain investigated here is constraint ranking. (shrink)
ABSTRACT Generative linguistics' search for linguistic universals (1) is not comparable to the vague explanatory suggestions of the article; (2) clearly merits a more central place than linguistic typology in cognitive science; (3) is fundamentally untouched by the article's empirical arguments; (4) best explains the important facts of linguistic diversity; and (5) illuminates the dominant component of language's nature: biology.