The Predictability and Abstractness of Language: A Study in Understanding and Usage of the English Language through Probabilistic Modeling and Frequency
Accounts of language acquisition differ significantly in their treatment of the role of prediction in language learning. In particular, nativist accounts posit that probabilistic learning about words and word sequences has little to do with how children come to use language. The accuracy of this claim was examined by testing whether distributional probabilities and frequency contributed to how well 3-4 year olds repeat simple word chunks. Corresponding chunks were the same length, expressed similar content, and were all grammatically acceptable, yet the results of the study showed marked differences in performance when overall distributional frequency varied. It was found that a distributional model of language predicted the empirical findings better than a number of other models, replicating earlier findings and showing that children attend to distributional probabilities in an adult corpus. This suggested that language is more prediction-and-error based, rather than on abstract rules which nativist camps suggest.
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