The Probabilistic Analysis of Language Acquisition: Theoretical, Computational, and Experimental Analysis

Cognition, in Press

27 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2011

See all articles by Anne Showen Hsu

Anne Showen Hsu

University College London

Nick Chater

University College London - Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution (ELSE)

Paul Paul Vitányi

Center for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI)

Date Written: March 31, 2011

Abstract

There is much debate over the degree to which language learning is governed by innate language-specific biases, or acquired through cognition-general principles. Here we examine the probabilistic language acquisition hypothesis on three levels: We outline a novel theoretical result showing that it is possible to learn the exact generative model underlying a wide class of languages, purely from observing samples of the language. We then describe a recently proposed practical framework, which quantifies natural language learnability, allowing specific learnability predictions to be made for the first time. In previous work, this framework was used to make learnability predictions for a wide variety of linguistic constructions, for which learnability has been much debated. Here, we present a new experiment which tests these learnability predictions. We find that our experimental results support the possibility that these linguistic constructions are acquired probabilistically from cognition-general principles.

Keywords: child language acquisition, poverty of the stimulus, no negative evidence, minimum description length, simplicity principle, natural language, probabilistic models, identification in the limit, Bayesian models

Suggested Citation

Hsu, Anne Showen and Chater, Nick and Paul Vitányi, Paul, The Probabilistic Analysis of Language Acquisition: Theoretical, Computational, and Experimental Analysis (March 31, 2011). Cognition, in Press. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1800102

Anne Showen Hsu (Contact Author)

University College London ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Nick Chater

University College London - Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution (ELSE) ( email )

Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Paul Paul Vitányi

Center for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI) ( email )

Amsterdam, NL-1090 GB

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
39
Abstract Views
511
PlumX Metrics