Distributional Knowledge and Language Learning

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  • One of the hotly debated topics in language acquisition is how children learn the structure of the language they are exposed to. To acquire language, children have to learn the linguistic units of their language (phonemes, morphemes, and words) and the productive, yet restricted, ways those units can be combined. Both the parts and the rules differ across languages and are not explicitly taught. The need to simultaneously learn both aspects introduces a serious challenge: How can children discover the regularities without first knowing what the parts are? And how do they extract the correct parts without knowing their defining characteristics? For example, Hindi and English both have aspirated sounds, but aspiration is a phonological contrast only in Hindi. Infants learning Hindi and English ...

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