Articles

Language Acquisition and Use: Learning and Applying Probabilistic Constraints

Science  14 Mar 1997:
Vol. 275, Issue 5306, pp. 1599-1603
DOI: 10.1126/science.275.5306.1599

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Abstract

What kinds of knowledge underlie the use of language and how is this knowledge acquired? Linguists equate knowing a language with knowing a grammar. Classic “poverty of the stimulus” arguments suggest that grammar identification is an intractable inductive problem and that acquisition is possible only because children possess innate knowledge of grammatical structure. An alternative view is emerging from studies of statistical and probabilistic aspects of language, connectionist models, and the learning capacities of infants. This approach emphasizes continuity between how language is acquired and how it is used. It retains the idea that innate capacities constrain language learning, but calls into question whether they include knowledge of grammatical structure.

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