What cognitive and social forces shape language change?
Doing Computational Evolutionary Linguistics: One goal is to explore possible mechanisms of language evolution and change, toward a common framework that explains language evolution and development.
We simulate language evolution/change with computer simulations (in silico sims), as well as with human learners engaged in evolutionary language games (in vivo sims).
We concur with recent theoretical positions that see language structures as optimized for the cognitive processes that subserve them. Then, perhaps, the language faculty adapted to pre existing cognitive functions. Over time languages of the world may have evolved to become more learnable by the brain.
Find out more about language evolution projects here.
What are the developmental origins of grammar?
In the first years of life infants develop fundamental cognitive and linguistic abilities that form the basis for future learning, schooling, and socializing.
Cascading effects starting early in infancy can percolate from language skills to educational levels. Thus, understanding basic mechanisms and environmental conditions affecting infant learning deserves attention and appropriate research.
Of particular importance are the developmental changes that take place in the first years of life and assist the discovery of structural linguistic units (such as words and phrases), and their correct ordering (e.g., the cat versus *cat the).
At LEAP we study infants’ abilities to implicitly detect relations in sequences of speech sounds, and relate these abilities to language abilities. Languages contain many probabilistic regularities (for example, a listener who hears English the can predict that a word referring to a thing will occur after it), so sensitivity to statistical structure in the input can play an important role in mastering language.
We explore the possibility that brain mechanisms are attuned to the statistical properties of a given natural language to optimally support the identification of structural linguistic units early on,
accounting for fast discovery of syntactic aspects of language in preverbal children acquiring one or more languages.
Find out more about language acquisition projects here.
Old dogs learn new tricks: how can we retrain the adult brain?
We learn as children and we continue learning as adults. Throughout our lives, the brain shows a remarkable cognitive reserve for the ability to learn. Yet adults learn from the environment in ways that often differ from children. At LEAP we ask how such differences affect the nature of what they learn.
The traditional explanation for differences in first versus second language learning is that children lose some fundamental abilities as they grow. In our lab, we take a different approach: we see L2 learning difficulties as a natural consequence of adult gains in cognitive capacities and knowledge that optimize learning for the first language, and not as a loss of learning abilities.
For example, adult learners possess rich prior knowledge about the types of cues that are informative in their first languages, and this may support learning a second language when the cues are similar between languages, but not when they do not overlap. We call this “the effect of learning on learning”.
We focus on how experience shapes adult plasticity and differences between child and adult learning.
- Experience-dependence cognitive training
- Behavioral and EEG/ERP methods
Find out more about language plasticity projects here.