The issue of abstract representations in the domains of language acquisition and adult language processing is addressed in this project. Is it possible to learn a subdomain of language without prior linguistic knowledge in this domain? Can one achieve the final learning stage (adult performance) without developing abstract representations ? A new methodology will be used to study these questions. The research will explicitly combine the techniques that are used in three separate disciplines: language acquisition research, psycholinguistics, and artificial intelligence. Whereas the former two take the real language learner/user as their object of study, the latter one studies the artificial language learner/user. Thus far artificial learning models have always been used to simulate effects observed in actual language use. Whereas simulation reveals the computational power of the learning system and suggests interesting hypotheses on the real language learner/user, it does not falsify hypotheses generated in, for instance, psycholinguistic work. In our research we want to use artificial language learners/users in a radically different way. Apart from having them simulate effects from real language use we want to isolate factors that affect the model's behaviour and then study the effects of these same factors in psycholinguistic experiments and in language acquisition data. In case of a different outcome, the effects observed in real language users can then be used to adapt the architecture of the artificial learning model and see whether its performance can eventually be matched to that of the language user. This method of relating the results from acquisition and psycholinguistic research to computational work and vice versa is essentially a heuristic for discovering properties of the representational architecture for language in the real language learner/user.
This basic issue, and the methodology to study it, will be approached in two linguistic domains: phonology and inflectional morphology. In phonology, the linguistic representation of stress patterns, phonotactic restrictions, and syllable structure will be studied. In morphology, irregularity effects in the past tense formation in Dutch will be used to study the issue of the single-route versus dual-route architecture (i.e., rules for regular forms, a lexicon for the irregular ones). A study of the factors causing interference errors in the spelling of (highly regular) past tense forms in Dutch (regular forms affecting other regulars) will shed light on the issue.
BOF Onderzoeksfonds, Geconcerteerde Onderzoeksactie (Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Gemeenschappelijke Onderzoeksraad UA)