Variability, negative evidence, and the acquisition of verb argument constructions


We present a hierarchical Bayesian framework for modeling the acquisition of verb argument constructions. It embodies a domain-general approach to learning higher-level knowledge in the form of inductive constraints (or overhypotheses), and has been used to explain other aspects of language development such as the shape bias in learning object names. Here, we demonstrate that the same model captures several phenomena in the acquisition of verb constructions. Our model, like adults in a series of artificial language learning experiments, makes inferences about the distributional statistics of verbs on several levels of abstraction simultaneously. It also produces the qualitative learning patterns displayed by children over the time course of acquisition. These results suggest that the patterns of generalization observed in both children and adults could emerge from basic assumptions about the nature of learning. They also provide an example of a broad class of computational approaches that can resolve Baker’s Paradox.

Journal of Child Language 37: 607-642
Andrew Perfors
Associate Professor

I seek to understand how people reason and think, both on their own and in groups.