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The Neglected Universals: Learnability Constraints and Discourse Cues



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Authors Heidi R Waterfall and Shimon Edelman Abstract words 60 Text words 967 References words 450 Total words 1477 The Neglected Universals Learnability Constraints and Discourse Cues Heidi Waterfall Dept of Psychology Cornell University Ithaca NY 14853 USA and Dept of Psychology University of Chicago Chicago IL 60637 USA heidi waterfall gmail com Shimon Edelman Dept of Psychology Cornell University Ithaca NY 14853 USA and Dept of Brain and Cognitive Engineering Korea University Anam dong Seongbuk gu Seoul 136 713 South Korea se37 cornell edu http kybele psych cornell edu edelman Abstract Converging findings from English Mandarin and other languages suggest that observed universals may be algorithmic First computational principles behind recently developed algorithms that acquire productive constructions from raw texts or transcribed child directed speech impose family resemblance on learnable languages Second child directed speech is particularly rich in statistical and social cues that facilitate learning of certain types of structures Having surveyed a wide range of posited universals and found them wanting Evans and Levinson E L propose instead that the common patterns observed in the organization of human languages are due to cognitive constraints and cultural factors We offer empirical evidence in support of both these ideas One kind of common pattern is readily apparent in the six examples of child directed speech in Figure 1 in each of which partial matches between successive utterances serve to highlight the structural regularities of the underlying language Two universal principles that allow such regularities to be learned can be traced to the work of Zellig Harris 1946 1991 First the discovery of language structure from morphemes to phrases can proceed by cross utterance alignment and comparison Harris 1946 Edelman and Waterfall 2007 Second the fundamental task in describing a language is to state the departures from equiprobability in its sound and



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