Article

The crosslinguistic acquisition of sentence structure: Computational modeling and grammaticality judgments from adult and child speakers of English, Japanese, Hindi, Hebrew and K'iche'

Citation

Ambridge B, Tatsumi T, Doherty L, Maitreyee R, Bannard C, Samanta S, McCauley S, Arnon I, Zicherman S, Bekman D, Efrati A, Berman R, Narasimhan B, Sharma DM & Fukumura K (2020) The crosslinguistic acquisition of sentence structure: Computational modeling and grammaticality judgments from adult and child speakers of English, Japanese, Hindi, Hebrew and K'iche'. Cognition, 202, Art. No.: 104310. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104310

Abstract
This preregistered study tested three theoretical proposals for how children form productive yet restricted linguistic generalizations, avoiding errors such as *The clown laughed the man, across three age groups (5–6 years, 9–10 years, adults) and five languages (English, Japanese, Hindi, Hebrew and K'iche'). Participants rated, on a five-point scale, correct and ungrammatical sentences describing events of causation (e.g., *Someone laughed the man; Someone made the man laugh; Someone broke the truck; ?Someone made the truck break). The verb-semantics hypothesis predicts that, for all languages, by-verb differences in acceptability ratings will be predicted by the extent to which the causing and caused event (e.g., amusing and laughing) merge conceptually into a single event (as rated by separate groups of adult participants). The entrenchment and preemption hypotheses predict, for all languages, that by-verb differences in acceptability ratings will be predicted by, respectively, the verb's relative overall frequency, and frequency in nearly-synonymous constructions (e.g., X made Y laugh for *Someone laughed the man). Analysis using mixed effects models revealed that entrenchment/preemption effects (which could not be distinguished due to collinearity) were observed for all age groups and all languages except K'iche', which suffered from a thin corpus and showed only preemption sporadically. All languages showed effects of event-merge semantics, except K'iche' which showed only effects of supplementary semantic predictors. We end by presenting a computational model which successfully simulates this pattern of results in a single discriminative-learning mechanism, achieving by-verb correlations of around r = 0.75 with human judgment data.

Keywords
Child language acquisition; Verb semantics; Preemption; Entrenchment; Causative; English; Japanese; Hindi; Hebrew; K'iche

Notes
Additional co-authors: Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Seth Campbell, Clifton Pye, Pedro Mateo Pedro, Sindy Fabiola Can Pixabaj, Mario Marroquín Pelíz, Margarita Julajuj Mendoza

Journal
Cognition: Volume 202

StatusPublished
FundersEconomic and Social Research Council
Publication date30/09/2020
Publication date online30/06/2020
Date accepted by journal13/04/2020
URLhttp://hdl.handle.net/1893/31354
PublisherElsevier BV
ISSN0010-0277
eISSN1873-7838