Spring 2019 Syllabus
Topic: Theories of the acquisition process
Instructor: Kathryn Schuler
3401-C Walnut Street, Office 314
Time and place: Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30pm
Linguistics Department, Conference Room
In this seminar, we’ll read and discuss classic and contemporary theories of the language acquisition process. Topics include: prosodic, semantic, and syntactic bootstrapping theories, usage-based approaches, formal generative approaches, neural network models and more. Each week we’ll read a paper outlining a theoretical approach paired with either (1) an empirical investigation of the approach, (2) a paper expressing opposition to the approach, or (3) both. We’ll discuss the strengths and weakness of both the theories and the empirical studies that investigate them. We’ll also consider how one might design future experiments to test these theories.
All students - including those auditing - are expected to play an active role in class discussion. In each class, one student will be assigned to be the primary reader of each paper. The primary reader summarizes the reading, leads the discussion, and is primarily responsible for the assigned material. However, everyone is required to read the assigned material and contribute to the class discussion.
If you are taking the course for credit, your final project will be a research proposal. Your proposal will be reviewed in an in-class mock study section, and you’ll be required to write a formal response to the reviews you receive.
20% Participation in class discussion: Before each class, you’ll post 5-8 discussion questions on the assigned readings. During class, you’re expected to participate in class discussion, even if you are not the primary reader.
40% Research proposal: You’ll write a research proposal in which you propose a 1-2 experiments to test a theory of the acquisition process. The proposal will follow the format of an NIH R03 application - 1 page for specific aims and 6 pages for the research plan. More details about the proposal, including format, grading criteria, and samples, are available here.
20% In-class peer review: On the final day of class, we’ll conduct a mock study section - an NIH-style peer review panel - to evaluate the research proposals. Each student will be asked to be the primary reviewer for one proposal and the secondary reviewer for another. Primary and secondary reviewers will turn in written critiques of their assigned proposals and lead the discussion in the mock study section. More details about the mock study section are available here.
20% Written response to reviews: After the in-class peer review, you’ll receive the written reviews of your proposal and be asked to write a formal response to the reviews’ critiques. More details about the response to reviews are available here.
Notes: One name means one primary reader (Primary: Paper), two names mean a primary and a secondary reader (Primary/Secondary: Paper).
Discussion question instructions
- Please post 5-8 discussion questions on Canvas by midnight on Monday before class. Your questions should reflect your understanding and thoughts on the assigned readings and will serve as the basis for our in-class discussion. These posting are meant to be very informal – a simple list of questions will suffice, but a narrative style is fine, too, if you prefer that. There are no formatting restrictions.
Research proposal instructions
- Aslin, R. N., & Newport, E. L. (2014). Distributional Language Learning: Mechanisms and Models of Category Formation. Language Learning, 64(s2), 86–105.
- Berwick, R. C. (1986). Learning from Positive-only examples. In Machine Learning (Vol. II, pp. 625–645).
- Chien, Y.-C., & Wexler, K. (1990). Children’s Knowledge of Locality Conditions in Binding as Evidence for the Modularity of Syntax and Pragmatics. Language Acquisition, 1(3), 225–295.
- Fisher, C. (2002). The role of abstract syntactic knowledge in language acquisition: a reply to Tomasello (2000). Cognition, 82(3), 259–278.
- Gleitman, L. R., Cassidy, K., Nappa, R., Papafragou, A., & Trueswell, J. C. (2005). Hard words. Language Learning and Development, 1(1), 23–64.
- Hawthorne, K., & Gerken, L. (2014). From pauses to clauses: Prosody facilitates learning of syntactic constituency. Cognition, 133(2), 420–428.
- Legendre, G. (2006). Early Child Grammars: Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Morphosyntactic Production. Cognitive Science, 30(5), 803–835.
- Lila R. Gleitman, & Wanner, E. (1982). The state of the state of the art. In Language Acquisition: The state of the art. Cambridge U. Press.
- Maratsos, M. P., & Chalkley, M. A. (1980). The internal language of children’s syntax: The nature and ontogenesis of syntactic categories. Children’s Language.
- Perfors, A., Tenenbaum, J. B., & Regier, T. (2011). The learnability of abstract syntactic principles. Cognition, 118(3), 306–338.
- Pinker, S., & Prince, A. (1988). On language and connectionism: Analysis of a parallel distributed processing model of language acquisition. Cognition, 28(1–2), 73–193.
- Poeppel, D., & Wexler, K. (1993). The Full Competence Hypothesis of Clause Structure in Early German. Language, 69(1), 1.
- Pozzan, L., Gleitman, L. R., & Trueswell, J. C. (2016). Semantic Ambiguity and Syntactic Bootstrapping: The Case of Conjoined-Subject Intransitive Sentences. Language Learning and Development, 12(1), 14–41.
- Prince, A., & Smolensky, P. (1997). Optimality: From Neural Networks to Universal Grammar. Science, 275(5306), 1604–1610.
- Radford, A. (1995). Children-architects or brickies. In Proceedings of the 19th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (Vol. 1, pp. 1–19).
- Reali, F., & Christiansen, M. H. (2005). Uncovering the Richness of the Stimulus: Structure Dependence and Indirect Statistical Evidence. Cognitive Science, 29(6), 1007–1028.
- Rumelhart, D. E., & McClelland, J. L. (1987). Learning the past tenses of English verbs: Implicit rules or parallel distributed processing. Mechanisms of Language Acquisition, 195–248.
- Soderstrom, M. (2003). The prosodic bootstrapping of phrases: Evidence from prelinguistic infants. Journal of Memory and Language, 49(2), 249–267.
- Tomasello, M. (2000). Do young children have adult syntactic competence? Cognition, 74(3), 209–253.
- Wexler, K. (1980). Learnability and Constraints in Language. In U. Bellugi & Studdert-Kennedy, M. (Eds.), Signed and Spoken Language: Biological Constraints on Linguistics Form.
- Yang, C. (2017). Rage against the machine: Evaluation metrics in the 21st century. Language Acquisition, 24(2), 100–125.