Lecture: "Language acquisition just Zipf’s right along"
This lecture was presented January 28 2011 by the Institute in Cognitive Sciences at UQAM.
Lecturer: Nick Ellis, from the English Language Institute and the Centre for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan.
Abstract : This paper explores the emergence of language from the perspectives of usage-based approaches and of complex systems (CS). One of the mysteries of language development is that each of us as learners has had different language experiences and yet somehow we have converged on broadly the same language system. From diverse, often noisy samples, we end up with similar linguistic competence. How can that be ? There must be some constraints in our estimation of how language works. Some views hold that the constraints are in the learner, as expectations of linguistic universals pre-programmed in some form of innate language acquisition device. Others hold that the constraints are in the dynamics of language itself - that language form, language meaning, and language use come together to promote robust induction by means of statistical learning over limited samples. The research described here explores this question with regard English verbs, their grammatical form, semantics, and patterns of usage. It exemplifies CS principles such as agent-based emergence and the importance of scale-free distributions, and CS methods such as distributional analysis, connectionist modeling, and networks analysis.