Mayfest 2006: Language Learning Fest: Counts, Cues, Constraints and Computation


Whatever underlying cognitive mechanisms for language usage are presupposed by any particular theory of language acquisition, the fact remains that the limited and noisy data children are exposed to is sufficient for them to learn their native language. This workshop brings together researchers from a variety of areas within the field of language acquisition who are working on the problem of how this primary linguistic data is processed by children learning language. We focus on two active and often independent subfields in language acquisition research, phonological development and syntactic development. In both fields, a series of talks representing contrasting theoretical and methodological perspectives (e.g., statistical, cue-based, computational modeling) are presented side-by-side. During the workshop, Bill Idsardi and Jeff Lidz will offer a summary of the viewpoints presented and facilitate a discussion between the participants and the theories they represent. By juxtaposing these divergent theoretical positions, the underlying problems facing each of these domains will be brought into sharper focus. Additionally, by presenting theories from subfields of language acquisition that are often researched independently, participants will have the opportunity to seek cross-domain commonalities by exploring general questions about the role of, for example, probability distributions, Bayesian statistics, and cues for parameter setting in a variety of linguistic domains.


  • Elan Dresher (University of Toronto), The Acquisition of Phonological Representations
  • William Sakas (CUNY/Hunter College), The Subset Principle: Consequences and Conspiracies
  • Daniel Swingley (University of Pennsylvania), Distributional learning and phonetic development
  • Toben Mintz (University of Southern California), Bootstrapping Grammatical Categories from Structure-Independent Distributional Cues
  • Mark Johnson (Brown University), Bayesian learning of grammars
  • Charles Yang (Yale University), Language and Learning
  • Jessica Maye (Northwestern University), Learning to Hear a Language: A statistical account of developmental speech perception
  • Carla Hudson Kam (University of California at Berkeley), Rapid Language Change as a Window on Language Learning Mechanisms