Charles Yang

The Mechanisms of Language Acquisition

  • Teacher: Charles Yang (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Theme: Modelling learnability
  • Slot: 13.45-15.45 (parallel session 2)
  • Reading list


The generative literature on language acquisition has produced many insightful descriptions of child language but relatively few explicit accounts of learning that take linguistic experience into account.  At the same time, the experimental approach to language development has identified processes that could provide the bridge between the data and the grammar, but questions remain whether laboratory findings can adequately account for a realistic range of linguistic complexity.   Finally, computational linguistics have exploited statistical regularities in language, although it is no means clear if these techniques may serve as psychological models of language learning.

This course is an overview of language acquisition that draws insights from linguistics, psychology, and computer Science: we aim to develop mechanistic procedures by which language may acquired. Topics range from the discovery of the phonemic inventory to morphological structure, from inductive generalizations (with exceptions) to parameter setting. A major theme is to sensibly assess the role of distributional information in the study of language: structural constraints in language remain central to the success of language acquisition and use.

Reading list

  1. Units
  2. Distributions
  3. Rules and Exceptions
  4. Parameters
  5. Change