How do children acquire the meaning of words? And why are words such as know harder for learners to acquire than words such as dog or jump? We suggest that the chief limiting factor in acquiring the vocabulary of natural languages consists not in overcoming conceptual difficulties with abstract word meanings but rather in mapping these meanings onto their corresponding lexical forms. This opening premise of our position, while controversial, is shared with some prior approaches. The present discussion moves forward (...) from there to a detailed proposal for how the mapping problem for the lexicon is solved, as well as a presentation of experimental findings that support this account. We describe an overlapping series of steps through which novices move in representing the lexical forms and phrase structures of the exposure language, a probabilistic multiple-cue learning process known as syntactic bootstrapping. The machinery is set in motion by word-to-world pairing, a procedure available to novices from the.. (shrink)
We evaluate here the performance of four models of cross-situational word learning: two global models, which extract and retain multiple referential alternatives from each word occurrence; and two local models, which extract just a single referent from each occurrence. One of these local models, dubbed Pursuit, uses an associative learning mechanism to estimate word-referent probability but pursues and tests the best referent-meaning at any given time. Pursuit is found to perform as well as global models under many conditions extracted from (...) naturalistic corpora of parent-child interactions, even though the model maintains far less information than global models. Moreover, Pursuit is found to best capture human experimental findings from several relevant cross-situational word-learning experiments, including those of Yu and Smith (), the paradigm example of a finding believed to support fully global cross-situational models. Implications and limitations of these results are discussed, most notably that the model characterizes only the earliest stages of word learning, when reliance on the co-occurring referent world is at its greatest. (shrink)
How do we talk about events we perceive? And how tight is the connection between linguistic and non-linguistic representations of events? To address these questions, we experimentally compared motion descriptions produced by children and adults in two typologically distinct languages, Greek and English. Our findings confirm a well-known asymmetry between the two languages, such that English speakers are overall more likely to include manner of motion information than Greek speakers. However, mention of manner of motion in Greek speakers' descriptions increases (...) significantly when manner is not inferable; by contrast, inferability of manner has no measurable effect on motion descriptions in English, where manner is already preferentially encoded. These results show that speakers actively monitor aspects of event structure, which do not find their way into linguistic descriptions. We conclude that, in regard to the differential encoding of path and manner, which has sometimes been offered as a prime example of the effects of language encoding on non-linguistic thought, surface linguistic encoding neither faithfully represents nor strongly constrains our mental representation of events. (shrink)
Number terms and quantifiers share a range of linguistic (syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic) properties. On the basis of these similarities, one might expect these 2 classes of linguistic expression to pose similar problems to children acquiring language. We report here the results of an experiment that explicitly compared the acquisition of numerical expressions (two, four) and quantificational (some, all) expressions in younger and older 3-year-olds. Each group showed adult-like preferences for “exact” interpretations when evaluating number terms; however they did not (...) use the corresponding upper bounded interpretation when evaluating the quantifier some. Apparently, children follow different procedures for learning and evaluating numerals and quantifiers. These findings have implications for theories of number representation in child and adult grammars. (shrink)
Gleitman and Trueswell’s “The easy words” forms a pair with their earlier paper, “Hard words,” completing a circle in which the authors ask how “easy” words (e.g., concrete nouns) are learned. They take up the hypothesis of “cross‐situational learning,” and argue that accumulating observations actually hinders learning if the mechanism requires holding all exemplars in memory over time. They present an alternative hypothesis, “Propose but Verify,” wherein people use one‐trial learning to confirm or disconfirm their current hypothesis—a mechanism distinctly different (...) from cross‐situational learning. (shrink)
What are the landmarks of the cognitive revolution? What are the core topics of modern cognitive science? Where is cognitive science heading to? Leading cognitive scientists--Chomsky, Pylyshyn, Gallistel, and others--examine their own work in relation to one of cognitive science's most influential and polemical figures: Jerry Fodor.
This chapter presents some reflections by Lila Gleitman on the development of her thinking and her research – in concert with a host of esteemed collaborators over the years – on issues of language and mind, focusing on how language is acquired. Gleitman entered the field of linguistics as a student of Zellig Harris, and learned firsthand of Noam Chomsky's early work. The chapter points out that Goldin‐Meadow's first looks at isolate language, and deaf language, transmuted into her life's work (...) on gesture and sign. Linguists, including particularly Anne Senghas, had the opportunity to look at a remarkable case of a language rising in a hithertofore‐isolated deaf community. Behaviorist psychology saw language learning as an instance of more general principles of operant conditioning, a relatively straightforward distillation and organization of experience. Chomsky continues to frame and expatiate upon the central questions of language learning and knowledge. (shrink)