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Building abstractions in Language Development

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Most accounts of child language acquisition use as analytic tools adult-like syntactic categories and grammars with little concern for whether they are psychologically real for young children. However when approached from a cognitive and functional theoretical perspective, recent research has demonstrated that children do not operate initially with such abstract linguistic entities, despite aspects of their language being highly productive from early on. Instead they construct more abstract linguistic representations only gradually – on the basis of linguistic experience in which the consistency of markers, the complexity of the construction in question and relative type and token frequencies within and across constructions play a key role. In this talk I will address these issues using research that employs naturalistic, experimental and modelling methodologies and that is applied to a range of languages and to the errors that children make.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Linguistics Forum series.

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