Events

In recent years a number of problems in the brain and cognitive sciences have been addressed through statistical approaches, hypothesizing that humans and animals learn or adapt to their perceptual environments by tuning themselves to the statistics of incoming stimulation. Professor Newport will present her work on statistical language learning, showing that infants, young children, and adults can compute, online and with remarkable speed, how consistently sounds co-occur, how frequently words occur in similar contexts, and the like, and can utilize these statistics to find candidate words in a speech stream, discover grammatical categories, and acquire simple syntactic structure in miniature languages. Her recent research has also shown that there are maturational changes in statistical learning, with children sharpening the statistics and producing a more systematic language than the one to which they are exposed. These sharpening processes potentially explain why children acquire language (and other patterns) more effectively than adults, and also how systematic languages may emerge in communities where usages are varied and inconsistent.