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June 30th, 2015

Rushen Shi Presents “Bootstrapping Early Language Acquisition” Thursday, July 9th 2015 @ 4pm


Bootstrapping Early Language Acquisition

A classic observation in the field of acquisition is that children’s early speech lacks functional elements (such as determiners, auxiliaries, tense endings, etc.), consistent with the view that functional items are absent in children’s early knowledge.

In this talk, I will argue against this view. I will present our empirical studies showing that infants can perceive the broad distinction of lexical versus functional items at birth based on prosodic and phonological cues in speech. They start encoding and representing functional items and their structural relations in the ambient language long before they produce these elements, and their early knowledge is abstract. Furthermore, I will discuss evidence that functional items bootstrap various acquisition tasks. These findings have implications for theories of language acquisition and for the debate concerning nature versus nurture in development.

Rushen Shi

Département de Psychologie & Institut des Sciences Cognitives

Université du Québec à Montréal

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