Séminaire SLG – Fenna Poletiek – 12/01/2024

On 12 January from 12 am, we will host a virtual talk from Dr. Fenna Poletiek from Institute of Psychology at Leiden University on « Language learning in the lab ».
The presentation will be hosted on room S6.
Abstract: Language learning in the lab Language learning skills have been considered a defining feature of humanness. In this view language cannot be acquired by mere associative or statistical learning processes, only, like many other skills are learned by human and nonhuman primates during development. Indeed, the high (recursive) complexity of human grammars have been shown to make them impossible to learn by exposure to language exemplars only. Some research suggests, however, that at least some statistical learning is recruited in language acquisition (Perruchet & Pacton, 2006). And primates have been shown to mimic complex grammatical patterns after being trained on a sequence of stimulus responses (Rey et al., 2012). We performed series of studies with artificial languages in the lab, to investigate associative and statistical learning processes that support language learning. The results thus far suggest a fine tuned cooperation between three crucial features of the natural language learning process: first, learning proceeds ‘starting small’ with short simple sentences growing in complexity and length. Second, early language is not random but is biased towards descriptions of events in the world (the dog barks occurs more often than the dog talks). Finally, language structure is recursive and hierarchical, i.e. it is a system of (reusable) building blocks. Taken together, language learnability might result from a narrow fit between a biased input, simple associative and statistical learning processes and recursive complexity. Surprisingly, in our account, complexity is a facilitative feature rather than a difficulty.
Bio: Jenna Poletiek holds a joint appointment as Assistant Professor at the Cognitive Psychology department at Leiden University and as Senior Investigator at the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics. I am also a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University (UK). Furthermore, I will occupy the ILCB-IMéRA Chair at the University of Aix-en-Provence/Marseille (FR) from September 2023. ILCB is the Institute for Language Communication and the Brain. IMéRA is the Institute for Advanced Studies Marseille/Aix.