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LINGUIST List 21.937

Thu Feb 25 2010

Diss: Lang Acq/Psycholing: Arnon: 'Starting Big: The role of multi-...'

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        1.    Inbal Arnon, Starting Big: The role of multi-word phrases in language learning and use

Message 1: Starting Big: The role of multi-word phrases in language learning and use
Date: 24-Feb-2010
From: Inbal Arnon <inbal.arnongmail.com>
Subject: Starting Big: The role of multi-word phrases in language learning and use
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Institution: Stanford University
Program: Linguistics Program
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Inbal Arnon

Dissertation Title: Starting Big: The role of multi-word phrases in language learning and use

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Dissertation Director:
Eve V. Clark
Daniel Jurafsky
Tom Wasow
Meghan Sumner
Michael Ramscar

Dissertation Abstract:

Why are children better language learners than adults despite being worse
at other cognitive tasks? Previous accounts have focused on biological,
cognitive or neural differences between children and adults. In this
dissertation, I suggest the answer lies, at least in part, in the
linguistic units that children and adults learn from and how those shape
subsequent learning. I propose the Starting Big Hypothesis: children are
better at certain aspects of language learning because they learn from
units that are larger and less analyzed than the ones adults learn from.
Children's early units include ones that cross word boundaries (chunks like
I-don't-know or what-is-this), while adults - because of their prior
knowledge and learning environment - primarily learn from units in which
word boundaries are already marked. The process of learning grammar by
analyzing larger chunks may lead to a better outcome than learning by
concatenating already analyzed parts (as adults may). I suggest that
multi-word units facilitate grammatical and lexical learning and are part
of the native adult inventory as well. I support this hypothesis by showing
1) that children's morphological knowledge is facilitated in frequent
sentence-frames 2) that multi-word phrases are part of the native adult
lexicon, and 3) that L2 learning of grammatical gender improves when
learners are first exposed to larger chunks of language. The combined
findings offer a novel perspective on the difficulty that adults experience
in learning a second language. They enhance a usage-based view of first
language learning that emphasizes the importance of multi-word phrases in
the construction of grammar, and present evidence in support of an
emergentist view of language where all linguistic experience (be it atomic
or complex) is processed by the same cognitive mechanism.

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