Building blocks

Posted on February 25, 2016 by

Virve Vihman will be speaking at the LEL Research Seminar on Tuesday 1st March on Building Blocks: Acquisition of morphology in Estonian. The talk will be at the usual time, 4.15pm, in the usual place (SG1). Come and listen! Here’s the abstract:

A longlasting debate in cognitive science centers around how speakers produce novel linguistic forms. Chomsky (1965) attributed speakers’ productivity to abstract rules, whereas the opposing view holds that speakers base their intuitions and usage on analogy across stored exemplars (e.g. Rumelhart & McClelland 1986, Seidenberg & MacDonald 1999). The same opposition informs the debate between dual-route (e.g. Prasada & Pinker 1993, Albright & Hayes 2003) and single-route models (e.g. Bybee & Moder 1983, Ambridge 2010) of language acquisition and processing. The distinction between regular and irregular forms which underlies this debate is based primarily on English. However, in languages with more complex morphology, this opposition is more difficult to maintain (e.g. Danish: Kjaerbaek et al. 2014; Lithuanian: Saviciute et al., in press; Polish: Dabrowska & Szczerbinski 2006; Serbian: Mirkovic et al. 2011).

In this talk, I will draw on data from ongoing research investigating the acquisition of Estonian noun morphology to suggest that the dual route model is inadequate. The nominal affix system of Estonian is relatively regular, but it is paired with complex stem changes and a number of noun declension classes which add complexity to both linguistic description (Blevins 2008) and acquisition (Argus 2009). I report on three studies of morphological acquisition: an investigation of overregularisation errors at 2 and 3 years of age in a dense Estonian child language corpus, a novel noun inflection task among 3 to 5-year-olds, and analysis of code-switching data from two bilingual children mixing morphology from Estonian and English.

Featured image: toy blocks, by Iconshock, from Wikimedia Commons.