The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 9/30 - Gaja Jarosz

Speaker: Gaja Jarosz (Yale/MIT)
Title: Inductive Bias in the Acquisition of Syllable Structure in Polish
Date/Time: Monday, Sept 30, 5:30pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Shira Calamaro and Jason Zentz, Yale University.)

A growing body of recent computational and experimental work investigates the kinds of constraints or inductive biases that are needed to explain adult learning outcomes and artificial language learning results. This paper contributes to this discussion by investigating the extent to which inductive biases are needed to explain phonological development. Our focus is on modeling development of production to probe the learning biases that affect the acquisition process in a naturalistic setting. We use statistical modeling to make and test predictions for learning based on properties of the language input. In particular, on the basis of a longitudinal corpus of spontaneous productions of four Polish-learning children, we present detailed analysis of the acquisition of syllable structure in Polish and the phonological factors underlying the observed development. We subsequently construct a variety of phonotactic probability models estimated from a corpus of spontaneous speech spoken to these children and examine the abilities of these input-based models to explain the observed acquisition effects. Our findings indicate that, while certain phonotactic probabilities are highly predictive of acquisition, none can explain the full range of observed acquisition effects. We show that development of syllable structure is sensitive to phonological factors not recoverable from the phonotactic probabilities, suggesting a crucial role for inductive biases. We also show that access to abstract phonological representations plays a key role in explaining the developmental effects. We discuss implications of these results for theories of phonological learning.