My area of expertise is the acquisition of syntax, from the perspective of computational linguistics.

For several decades Chomsky’s arguments for innateness of language were influential but in the last few years, this has been challenged by strong claims that language can be learned without any innate basis, by non-specialized statistical learning algorithms. My dissertation research tested the statistical models systematically, on language constructions that children are known to be capable of acquiring, in order to establish what kinds of statistics could be successful and how powerful they need to be. My experiments focused on one particular construction, the English auxiliary inversion construction illustrated below. It was chosen because of its theoretical interest and because strong claims have been made about it in the literature, both by Chomsky on behalf of UG and by others who reject UG.

a.  The little boy who is crying is hurt.
b.  Is the little boy [who is crying] hurt?  (correct aux-inversion in question)
c.  * Is the little boy [who crying] is hurt?  (incorrect aux-inversion)

 

 
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