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Review
. Jan-Feb 2016;7(1):19-35.
doi: 10.1002/wcs.1376. Epub 2015 Dec 18.

Words, Rules, and Mechanisms of Language Acquisition

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Review

Words, Rules, and Mechanisms of Language Acquisition

Ansgar D Endress et al. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci. .

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Abstract

We review recent artificial language learning studies, especially those following Endress and Bonatti (Endress AD, Bonatti LL. Rapid learning of syllable classes from a perceptually continuous speech stream. Cognition 2007, 105:247-299), suggesting that humans can deploy a variety of learning mechanisms to acquire artificial languages. Several experiments provide evidence for multiple learning mechanisms that can be deployed in fluent speech: one mechanism encodes the positions of syllables within words and can be used to extract generalization, while the other registers co-occurrence statistics of syllables and can be used to break a continuum into its components. We review dissociations between these mechanisms and their potential role in language acquisition. We then turn to recent criticisms of the multiple mechanisms hypothesis and show that they are inconsistent with the available data. Our results suggest that artificial and natural language learning is best understood by dissecting the underlying specialized learning abilities, and that these data provide a rare opportunity to link important language phenomena to basic psychological mechanisms. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

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