At 14 months, children appear to struggle to apply their fairly well-developed speech perception abilities to learning similar sounding words (e.g., bih/dih; Stager & Werker, 1997). However, variability in nonphonetic aspects of the training stimuli seems to aid word learning at this age. Extant theories of early word learning cannot account for this benefit of variability. We offer a simple explanation for this range of effects based on associative learning. Simulations suggest that if infants encode both noncontrastive information (e.g., cues (...) to speaker voice) and meaningful linguistic cues (e.g., place of articulation or voicing), then associative learning mechanisms predict these variability effects in early word learning. Crucially, this means that despite the importance of task variables in predicting performance, this body of work shows that phonological categories are still developing at this age, and that the structure of noninformative cues has critical influences on word learning abilities. (shrink)
Evolutionary developmental systems theory stresses that selection pressures operate on entire developmental systems rather than just genes. This study extends this approach to language evolution, arguing that selection pressure may operate on two quasi-independent timescales. First, children clearly must acquire language successfully and evolution must equip them with the tools to do so. Second, while this is developing, they must also communicate with others in the moment using partially developed knowledge. These pressures may require different solutions, and their combination may (...) underlie the evolution of complex mechanisms for language development and processing. I present two case studies to illustrate how the demands of both real-time communication and language acquisition may be subtly different. The first case study examines infant-directed speech. A recent view is that IDS underwent cultural to statistical learning mechanisms that infants use to acquire the speech categories of their language. However, recent data suggest is it may not have evolved to enhance development, but rather to serve a more real-time communicative function. The second case study examines the argument for seemingly specialized mechanisms for learning word meanings. Both behavioral and computational work suggest that learning may be much slower and served by general-purpose mechanisms like associative learning. Fast-mapping, then, may be a real-time process meant to serve immediate communication, not learning, by augmenting incomplete vocabulary knowledge with constraints from the current context. Together, these studies suggest that evolutionary accounts consider selection pressure arising from both real-time communicative demands and from the need for accurate language development. (shrink)
Contrary to Pothos, rule- and similarity-based processes cannot be distinguished by dimensionality. Rather, one must consider the goal of the processing: what the system will do with the resulting representations. Research on speech perception demonstrates that the degree to which speech categories are gradient (or similarity-based) is a function of the utility of within-category variation for further processing.
In documenting the dizzying diversity of human languages, Evans & Levinson (E&L) highlight the lack of universals. This suggests the need for complex learning. Yet, just as there is no universal structure, there may be no universal learning mechanism responsible for language. Language is a behavior assembled by many processes, an assembly guided by the language being learned.
Norris et al.'s claim that feedback is unnecessary is compromised by (1) a questionable application of Occam's razor, given strong evidence for feedback in perception; (2) an idealization of the speech recognition problem that simplifies those aspects of the input that create conditions where feedback is useful; (3) Norris et al.'s use of decision nodes that incorporate feedback to model some important empirical results; and (4) problematic linking hypotheses between crucial simulations and behavioral data.