Changing Minds Changing Tools: A Learning-Theoretic Approach to Language Acquisition

AbstractFor a long time after Chomsky (1959), mainstream linguistic theory denied the possibility that language could be acquired using domain-general learning mechanisms. This consensus began to shift in the 1980s, with the re-emergence of connectionism and the development of usage-based cognitive/functionalist approaches to linguistic theory. The ensuing debate generated a great deal of interest in learning mechanisms for language acquisition (see Kapatsinski, in press b, for a review). While domain-specific mechanisms have been proposed (e.g. Gibson & Wexler, 1994), further research has generally abandoned them due to robustness issues and converged (back) on domain-general mechanisms familiar from other domains. For example, phonologists have turned back from strict ranking of constraints to gradient weighting using domain-general weight updating algorithms (Hayes & Wilson, 2008; Kapatsinski, 2013). At this point, there is no theoretical position that denies the applicability of domain-general learning mechanisms to language.

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