The crosslinguistic acquisition of sentence structure: Computational modeling and grammaticality judgments from adult and child speakers of English, Japanese, Hindi, Hebrew and K'iche'

Ben Ambridge*, Tomoko Tatsumi, Laura Doherty, Ramya Maitreyee, Colin Bannard, Soumitra Samanta, Stewart McCauley, Inbal Arnon, Shira Zicherman, Dani Bekman, Amir Efrati, Ruth Berman, Bhuvana Narasimhan, Dipti Misra Sharma, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Kumiko Fukumura, Seth Campbell, Clifton Pye, Pedro Mateo Pedro, Sindy Fabiola Can PixabajMario Marroquín Pelíz, Margarita Julajuj Mendoza

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

This preregistered study tested three theoretical proposals for how children form productive yet restricted linguistic generalizations, avoiding errors such as *The clown laughed the man, across three age groups (5–6 years, 9–10 years, adults) and five languages (English, Japanese, Hindi, Hebrew and K'iche'). Participants rated, on a five-point scale, correct and ungrammatical sentences describing events of causation (e.g., *Someone laughed the man; Someone made the man laugh; Someone broke the truck; ?Someone made the truck break). The verb-semantics hypothesis predicts that, for all languages, by-verb differences in acceptability ratings will be predicted by the extent to which the causing and caused event (e.g., amusing and laughing) merge conceptually into a single event (as rated by separate groups of adult participants). The entrenchment and preemption hypotheses predict, for all languages, that by-verb differences in acceptability ratings will be predicted by, respectively, the verb's relative overall frequency, and frequency in nearly-synonymous constructions (e.g., X made Y laugh for *Someone laughed the man). Analysis using mixed effects models revealed that entrenchment/preemption effects (which could not be distinguished due to collinearity) were observed for all age groups and all languages except K'iche', which suffered from a thin corpus and showed only preemption sporadically. All languages showed effects of event-merge semantics, except K'iche' which showed only effects of supplementary semantic predictors. We end by presenting a computational model which successfully simulates this pattern of results in a single discriminative-learning mechanism, achieving by-verb correlations of around r = 0.75 with human judgment data.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104310
JournalCognition
Volume202
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Funding

FundersFunder number
European Union's research and innovation programme681296
Economic and Social Research CouncilES/L008955/1
Economic and Social Research Council
European Research Council
University of Liverpool

    Keywords

    • Causative
    • Child language acquisition
    • English
    • Entrenchment
    • Hebrew
    • Hindi
    • Japanese
    • K'iche
    • Preemption
    • Verb semantics

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