In his review, Rispoli's main concern is that Elman et
al.'s book will
aggravate the degree of polarization in developmental psycholinguistics.
cannot really comment on this worry, as developmental psycholinguistics
not my field. Instead, I will discuss some questions more related to my
background – the role of computational modelling
in Elman et al.'s approach.
Elman et al.'s ambitious goal is to propose theories of
that are grounded in our knowledge of biology. This is of course
what the great Jean Piaget tried to achieve during his lifetime –
as we know. Elman et al.'s advantage over Piaget is that
they have a set
of computational tools, connectionism, which both allows them to specify
theories precisely and to study complex behaviours (such as epigenesis,
where innate and environmental factors interact to create new levels of
complexity) that are just beyond the (unaided) human mind. Even though
will highlight some of the weaknesses of their approach below, I should
emphasize that reading their book was an exciting and enjoyable experience.
As noted by Rispoli, there are important problems with the simulations
reported by Elman et al. Rispoli focuses on simulations of past
acquisition and syntax acquisition, but the problems are by no means limited
to these areas. I will briefly consider two recent developments in neural
research, one taken from the field of language acquisition, and one from
elsewhere, which underscore some of the difficulties of the simulations
discussed in the book.