Artificial Language Learning and Language Acquisition – Rebecca Gomez (Department of Psychology, JHU)
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The rapidity with which children acquire language is one of the mysteries of human cognition. A widely held view is that children master language by means of a language-specific learning device. An earlier proposal, generating renewed interest, is that children make use of domain-general, associative learning mechanisms in acquiring language. However, we know little about the actual learning mechanisms involved, making it difficult to determine the relative contributions of innate and acquired knowledge. A recent approach to studying this problem exposes infants to artificial languages and assesses the resulting learning. Studies using this paradigm have led to a number of exciting discoveries regarding the learning mechanisms available during infancy. This approach is useful for achieving finer-grained characterizations of infant learning mechanisms than previously imagined. Such characterizations should result in a better understanding of the relative contributions of innate and learned factors to language acquisition, as well as the dynamic between the two. I will present several studies using this methodology and will discuss the implications for the study of language acquisition.