Computational Models of Language Acquisition

William G. Sakas, CUNY

The exact process by which a child acquires the grammar of his or her native language is one of the most beguiling open problems of cognitive science. Recent approaches attempt to use computational modeling to mirror the process in an attempt to inform developmental and theoretical research. Through a series of case studies, this course will introduce students to computational models of natural language syntax acquisition. Discussion will center on the need (or not) of statistically-guided, non-deterministic learning mostly in the principles & parameters framework of generative linguistics, though background material from earlier and competing approaches to language acquisition modeling will also be presented.

Readings will most probably be drawn from:

Berwick, R. C., & Niyogi, P. (1996). Learning from triggers. Linguistic Inquiry 27, 605-622.

Buttery, P. & Briscoe, T. The Significance of Errors to Parametric Models of Language Acquisition. AAAI
Technical Report SS-04-05, Spring Symposium on Language Learning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, pages 15--20, Stanford University, 2004.
Clark, R. (1992). The selection of syntactic knowledge. Language Acquisition 2, 83-149.
Elman, J. L. (1991). Distributed representations, simple recurrent networks, and grammatical structure. Machine Learning, 7, 195-224.
Elman, J.L. (1993). Learning and development in neural networks: The importance of starting small. Cognition, 48, 71-99.
Fodor, J. D., & Sakas, W. G. (2004). Evaluating models of parameter setting. Proceedings of the 28th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (BUCLD 28), 1-27.
Fodor, J. D., & Sakas, W. G. (2005). The Subset Principle in syntax: Costs of compliance. Journal of Linguistics, 41 513-569.
Gibson, E., & Wexler, K. (1994). Triggers. Linguistic Inquiry 25, 407-454.
Gold, E. M. (1967). Language identification in the limit. Information and Control 10, 447-474.
Pinker, S. (1979). Formal models of language learning. Cognition, 7, 217-283.
Reali, F., Christiansen, M. H. (2005). Uncovering the richness of the stimulus: Structural dependence and indirect statistical evidence. Cognitive Science, 29, 1007-10018. 
Sakas, W. G., & Fodor, J. D. (2001). The structural triggers learner. In Bertolo, S. (ed.), Language Acquisition and Learnability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 172-233.
Yang, C. D. (2002). Knowledge and Learning in Natural Language. New York: Oxford University Press.
Xuan-Nga Cao Kam, Iglika Stoyneshka, Lidiya Tornyova, Janet Dean Fodor and William Gregory Sakas (submitted). Bigrams and the richness of the stimulus.