Learning how to inflect verbs in different languages

This project is about how children learn to inflect verbs to convey different meanings such as person (1st vs 2nd : in English, "I" vs. "you"), number (singular vs. plural: in English, "is" vs. "are") and tense (present vs. past: in English, "is" vs. "was").

English actually has a very limited range of inflections but many other languages have far more and we know rather little about the ways in which children start to use them and develop the ability to use the full set of inflections across a wide range of contexts. In this project, we will study three languages which have a much wider range of inflections than English (Polish, Finnish and Chintang – a Tibeto-Burman language of East Nepal).

We will be studying the development of children’s use of these inflections and, in particular, the development of productivity, (.i.e children’s ability to use them across a wide range of verbs and even on verbs they have never heard before). We will start with corpus analyses of the three languages and will then develop experiments to test Polish and Finnish children’s productivity. Finally we will try to model the development of inflectional productivity in these languages using computational modelling.

Project Team: Elena Lieven (Lead), Julian Pine, Sabine Stoll, Grzegorz Krajewski, Jeffrey Elman, Joanna Kolak, Sonia Granlund and Felix Engelmann

Start Date: March 2015

Duration: 3 years

(Work Package 6)