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Variability, negative evidence, and the acquisition of verb argument constructions*



We present a hierarchical Bayesian framework for modeling the acquisition of verb argument constructions. It embodies a domain-general approach to learning higher-level knowledge in the form of inductive constraints (or overhypotheses), and has been used to explain other aspects of language development such as the shape bias in learning object names. Here, we demonstrate that the same model captures several phenomena in the acquisition of verb constructions. Our model, like adults in a series of artificial language learning experiments, makes inferences about the distributional statistics of verbs on several levels of abstraction simultaneously. It also produces the qualitative learning patterns displayed by children over the time course of acquisition. These results suggest that the patterns of generalization observed in both children and adults could emerge from basic assumptions about the nature of learning. They also provide an example of a broad class of computational approaches that can resolve Baker's Paradox.


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We would like to thank Charles Kemp, Lila Gleitman, Brian MacWhinney, Nick Chater and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments. A version of this work made up a portion of the PhD thesis of the first author. This work was supported by an NDSEG graduate fellowship (AP), an NSF graduate fellowship (AP), the Paul E. Newton Career Development Chair (JBT), the James S. McDonnell Foundation Causal Learning Collaborative Initiative (JBT) and AFOSR grant FA9550-1-0075 (JBT).



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Variability, negative evidence, and the acquisition of verb argument constructions*



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