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Form is easy, meaning is hard: resolving a paradox in early child language

Form is easy, meaning is hard: resolving a paradox in early child language,10.1016/S0010-0277(02)00177-4,Cognition,Letitia R. Naigles

Form is easy, meaning is hard: resolving a paradox in early child language   (Citations: 43)
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A developmental paradox is discussed: studies of infant processing of language and language-like stimuli indicate considerable ability to abstract patterns over specific items and to distinguish natural from unnatural English sentences. In contrast, studies of toddler language production find little ability to generalize patterns over specific English words or constructions. Thus, infants appear to be abstract auditory or language processors whereas toddlers appear to be non-abstract, item-specific language users. Three resolutions are offered to this paradox. The first, that no resolution is necessary because only the toddler findings come from language use in a communicative context and so only the toddler findings are relevant to linguistic knowledge, is rejected. The second, that the contradictions are rooted in the differing methodologies of the two sets of studies (comprehension vs. production), is found to explain important aspects of the contradictory findings. The third, that the contractions come from the differing content of the stimuli in the studies, is also found to be explanatory and is argued to carry greater weight. Resolution 3 suggests that the patterns that infants extract from their linguistic input are not yet tied to meaning; thus, toddlers do not lose these earlier-abstracted forms but their use of them is limited until they have been integrated with meaning. It is argued that in language acquisition, learning form is easy but learning meaning, and especially linking meanings and forms, is hard.
Journal: Cognition , vol. 86, no. 2, pp. 157-199, 2002
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    • ...Missing data involve cases where children failed to respond; these cases were massively found in WWO conditions, indicating that children refused to use ungrammatical orders (as already pointed out by Naigles 2002)...

    Julie Francket al. Early Word Order Representations: Novel Arguments Against Old Contradi...

    • ...In that view, language acquisition would rely on innate constraints (Fisher, 2002a; Fisher, Hall, Rakovitz & Gleitman, 1994; Gleitman, 1990; Lidz, Waxman & Freedman, 2003; Naigles, 1990; Naigles, 2002)...
    • ...As a result, it is difficult to decide unambiguously whether toddlers simply parrot parts of sentences, or actively exploit syntactic computations to create their own novel sentences but are limited by their poor planning and motor control (Fisher, 2002a; Naigles, 2002; Tomasello & Abbot-Smith, 2002)...

    Savita Bernalet al. Two-year-olds compute syntactic structure on-line

    • ...There has been some debate about whether such learning involves language-relevant processes (Naigles, 2002, 2003; Tomasello & Akhtar, 2003)...

    Katharine Graf Esteset al. Can Infants Map Meaning to Newly Segmented Words?: Statistical Segment...

    • ...It appears that the difficulty in distinguishing similar-sounding words stems from the increased computational difficulties that arise when infants begin listening for meaning and not just form (Nazzi & Bertoncini, 2003; Naigles, 2002) and is most strikinglyevident when youngwordlearners firstattempt to use native phonetic categories to guide word learning (Stager & Werker, 1997)...

    Christopher T. Fennellet al. Using Speech Sounds to Guide Word Learning: The Case of Bilingual Infa...

    • ...Recent discussions in the literature on the acquisition of syntax have centered on a debate regarding the nature of children’s early syntactic representations (Fisher, 2002; Naigles, 2002; Tomasello, 2000; Tomasello & Akhtar, 2003)...
    • ...In contrast, those whose work supports the Generalization Hypothesis criticize the work in support of the Item-Based Hypothesis partly on the basis of task complexity (see Fisher, 2002; Naigles, 2002 for reviews)...
    • ...Based Hypothesis rests on the robustness of the syntactic generalizations being tested (Fisher, 2002; Naigles, 2002)...

    Erin Conwellet al. Early syntactic productivity: Evidence from dative shift

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