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Activities and Seminars

Inbal Arnon. When bigger is better: the role of multi-word phrases in language learning and use
 
Date: May 23, 2013

What: When bigger is better: the role of multi-word phrases in language learning and use

Where: BCBL auditorium

Who: Inbal Arnon, University of Haifa, Israel

When: 12 noon


Why are children better language learners, despite being worse at other cognitive tasks? Previous accounts have focused on biological, cognitive or neural differences between children and adults. Here, I focus instead on the linguistic units speakers learn from and how those shape the construction of grammar. I suggest that children are better at some aspects of language learning because they learn from linguistic units that are larger and less analyzed than the ones adults employ and include multi-word chunks like ‘I-don’t-know’. The hypothesis – which is novel in relating children’s better learning to the larger units they learn from – makes concrete predictions about (a) the role of multi-word information and native language processing, and (b) the differential role of multi-word chunks in first and second language learning. In this talk, I draw on develomental and psycholinguistic data to illustrate the facilitative role of larger units in children’s language production, and show that L2 learning of grammatical gender in an artificial language improves when learners are first exposed to larger chunks of language. I discuss implications for models of language learning and representation.