Why are children better language learners than adults despite being worse at a range of other cognitive tasks? Here, we explore the role of multiword sequences in explaining L1–L2 differences in learning. In particular, we propose that children and adults differ in their reliance on such multiword units in learning, and that this difference affects learning strategies and outcomes, and leads to difficulty in learning certain grammatical relations. In the first part, we review recent findings that suggest that MWUs play (...) a facilitative role in learning. We then discuss the implications of these findings for L1–L2 differences: We hypothesize that adults are both less likely to extract MWUs and less capable of benefiting from them in the process of learning. In the next section, we draw on psycholinguistic, developmental, and computational findings to support these predictions. We end with a discussion of the relation between this proposal and other accounts of L1–L2 difficulty. (shrink)
Humans are capable of extracting recurring patterns from their environment via statistical learning (SL), an ability thought to play an important role in language learning and learning more generally. While much work has examined statistical learning in infants and adults, less work has looked at the developmental trajectory of SL during childhood to see whether it is fully developed in infancy or improves with age, like many other cognitive abilities. A recent study showed modality‐based differences in the effect of age (...) during childhood: While visual SL improved with age, auditory SL did not. This finding was taken as evidence for modality‐based differences in SL. However, since that study used auditory linguistic stimuli (syllables), the differential effect of age may have been driven by stimulus type (linguistic vs. non‐linguistic) rather than modality. Here, we ask whether age will affect performance similarly in the two modalities when non‐linguistic auditory stimuli are used (familiar sounds instead of syllables). We conduct a large‐scale study of children's performance on visual and non‐linguistic auditory SL during childhood (ages 5–12 years). The results show a similar effect of age in both modalities: Unlike previous findings, both visual and non‐linguistic auditory SL improved with age. These findings highlight the stimuli‐sensitive nature of SL and suggest that modality‐based differences may be stimuli‐dependent, and that age‐invariance may be limited to linguistic stimuli. (shrink)
The ability to convey our thoughts using an infinite number of linguistic expressions is one of the hallmarks of human language. Understanding the nature of the psychological mechanisms and representations that give rise to this unique productivity is a fundamental goal for the cognitive sciences. A long-standing hypothesis is that single words and rules form the basic building blocks of linguistic productivity, with multiword sequences being treated as units only in peripheral cases such as idioms. The new millennium, however, has (...) seen a shift toward construing multiword linguistic units not as linguistic rarities, but as important building blocks for language acquisition and processing. This shift—which originated within theoretical approaches that emphasize language learning and use—has far-reaching implications for theories of language representation, processing, and acquisition. Incorporating multiword units as integral building blocks blurs the distinction between grammar and lexicon; calls for models of production and comprehension that can accommodate and give rise to the effect of multiword information on processing; and highlights the importance of such units to learning. In this special topic, we bring together cutting-edge work on multiword sequences in theoretical linguistics, first-language acquisition, psycholinguistics, computational modeling, and second-language learning to present a comprehensive overview of the prominence and importance of such units in language, their possible role in explaining differences between first- and second-language learning, and the challenges the combined findings pose for theories of language. (shrink)
Over the last decade, iterated learning studies have provided compelling evidence for the claim that linguistic structure can emerge from non‐structured input, through the process of transmission. However, it is unclear whether individuals differ in their tendency to add structure, an issue with implications for understanding who are the agents of change. Here, we identify and test two contrasting predictions: The first sees learning as a pre‐requisite for structure addition, and predicts a positive correlation between learning accuracy and structure addition, (...) whereas the second maintains that it is those learners who struggle with learning and reproducing their input who add structure to it. This prediction is hard to test in standard iterated learning paradigms since each learner is exposed to a different input, and since structure and accuracy are computed using the same test items. Here, we test these contrasting predictions in two experiments using a one‐generation artificial language learning paradigm designed to provide independent measures of learning accuracy and structure addition. Adults (N = 48 in each study) were exposed to a semi‐regular language (with probabilistic structure) and had to learn it: Learning was assessed using seen items, whereas structure addition was calculated over unseen items. In both studies, we find a strong positive correlation between individuals' ability to learn the language and their tendency to add structure to it: Better learners also produced more structured languages. These findings suggest a strong link between learning and generalization. We discuss the implications of these findings for iterated language models and theories of language change more generally. (shrink)
In this article, Arnon explores the link between implicit learning, statistical learning and language development. She focuses on two central themes, namely the issue of age invariance and the question of variation in learning outcomes. Arnon suggests that the two literatures are studying a fundamentally similar phenomenon and argues in favor of a closer alignment. However, she also raises important methodological concerns.
Recent work asked if visual cues facilitate word segmentation in adults and infants. While adults showed better word segmentation when presented with a regular visual cue, infants did not. This difference was attributed to infants' lack of understanding that objects have labels. Alternatively, infants’ performance could reflect their difficulty with tracking and integrating multiple multimodal cues. We contrasted these two accounts by looking at the effect of visual cues on word segmentation in adults and across childhood. We found that older (...) children benefitted from the regular visual cues, but younger children, who already knew that objects have labels, did not. Knowing that objects have labels was not enough to use visual cues as an aid for segmentation. These findings show that the ability to integrate multimodal cues develops during childhood, and it is not yet adult-like in children. (shrink)