Relationships Between Language Structure and Language Learning: The Suffixing Preference and Grammatical Categorization

Cognitive Science 33 (7):1317-1329 (2009)
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Abstract

It is a reasonable assumption that universal properties of natural languages are not accidental. They occur either because they are underwritten by genetic code, because they assist in language processing or language learning, or due to some combination of the two. In this paper we investigate one such language universal: the suffixing preference across the world’s languages, whereby inflections tend to be added to the end of words. A corpus analysis of child‐directed speech in English found that suffixes were more accurate at cuing the grammatical category of the root word than were prefixes. An artificial language experiment found that there was a learning advantage for suffixes over prefixes in terms of grammatical categorization within an artificial language. The results are consistent with an account of language universals that originate in general purpose learning mechanisms.

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