Seminar: The role of input, intake and learning biases in the acquisition of (morpho-) syntax

Jennifer Culbertson (University of Edinburgh) will give the next LuCiD seminar on Tuesday 7th May at Lancaster University, from 11-12.30. She will share her research on theĀ role of input, intake and learning biases in the acquisition of (morpho-) syntax.


It is well-established that language learners are able to exploit statistical regularities in the input they receive to build up linguistic representations incrementally. In this talk, I focus on two conditions under which these regularities appear to be systematically under-utilised by adult and child learners. In the first, I report the results of a series of artificial language learning studies across age groups and L1s providing evidence for a cognitive bias in favour of particular types of word order rules. This bias is revealed when learners fail to reproduce--in some cases quite dramatically--the word order patterns present in their input. These failures of statistical learning, present in the early stages of acquisition, shed light on the possible mechanism by which soft constraints on learning shape language over generations; the same patterns learners prefer are over-represented among the world's languages. In the second case, I discuss another hypothesised cognitive bias, posited to explain why children fail to use available cues when learning grammatical gender systems. I show that the apparent failure of statistical learning in this case is more likely a reflection of how the input is structured, and what information is exploited in the early stages of learning. These two cases illustrate how language acquisition can be affected in surprising ways by the input, the intake, and general features of human cognition.


Venue: the Marcus Merriman Lecture Theatre, located in Bowland North, Lancaster University
See the Lancaster University Campus Map for more details.

Details for getting to Lancaster University can be found on theirĀ website.

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