Linguistics Colloquium: Outi Bat-El

07/05/2019 - 14:00 - 15:30

Outi Bat-El, TAU

Title: Variation in Early Speech - Universal Principles and Statistical Learning

There are two opposing, though partially overlapping approaches to language acquisition – the generative approach and the cognitive approach. The cognitive approach views statistical learning as the primary tool in language development (in addition to other cognitive capacities), while the generative approach promotes universal principles (in addition to statistical learning) as the key players in language knowledge in general and language acquisition in particular.

In my talk, I will challenge the statistical learning approach, with reference to the following predictions:

a.  With statistical learning alone, without the contribution of universal principles, the developmental path of a particular structure should follow the distribution of this structure in the children’s ambient language.

b.  Two typically developing children with exactly the same input, i.e. twins, should have the same developmental path.   

The results obtained in longitudinal studies of Hebrew-acquiring twins and non-siblings show that these predictions are not always borne out. I will show that (a) the development of stress does not follow the distribution of stress in Hebrew, and (b) the variation in the development of twins, which have exactly the same input, is found in the development of various phonological (stress, consonants) and morphological (verb suffixes) aspects.

The study thus supports the generative approach, which promotes universal principles as a key tool in language development but does not deny a certain degree of statistical learning. The question for further study must thus address the interaction between universal principles and statistical learning.

Place: Building 507 room 106


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