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The Emergence of Language

Edited by Brian MacWhinney

Psychology Press – 1999 – 520 pages

Series: Carnegie Mellon Symposia on Cognition Series

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    February 1st 1999
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    February 1st 1999


For nearly four centuries, our understanding of human development has been controlled by the debate between nativism and empiricism. Nowhere has the contrast between these apparent alternatives been sharper than in the study of language acquisition. However, as more is learned about the details of language learning, it is found that neither nativism nor empiricism provides guidance about the ways in which complexity arises from the interaction of simpler developmental forces. For example, the child's first guesses about word meanings arise from the interplay between parental guidance, the child's perceptual preferences, and neuronal support for information storage and retrieval. As soon as the shape of the child's lexicon emerges from these more basic forces, an exploration of "emergentism" as a new alternative to nativism and empiricism is ready to begin.

This book presents a series of emergentist accounts of language acquisition. Each case shows how a few simple, basic processes give rise to new levels of language complexity. The aspects of language examined here include auditory representations, phonological and articulatory processes, lexical semantics, ambiguity processing, grammaticality judgment, and sentence comprehension. The approaches that are invoked to account formally for emergent patterns include neural network theory, dynamic systems, linguistic functionalism, construction grammar, optimality theory, and statistically-driven learning. The excitement of this work lies both in the discovery of new emergent patterns and in the integration of theoretical frameworks that can formalize the theory of emergentism.


"The diverse fields of expertise represented here by notable theorists make it impossible for me to cover all of their contributions adequately. Suffice it to say that connectionist theories are well represented and appear to have moved well beyond the past tense phase that has played such a major role in most accounts of their attack on generative grammar."

Contemporary Psychology

"Second language researchers who work within an emergentist framework will find this volume on emergentist first language acquisition research of interest. Second language researchers who work within other frameworks, including a generative one, and are interested in seeing a different view of acquisition may also find such a volume useful to consult."

Studies in Second Language Acquasition

"The book is a highly readable resource, which is of use to researchers and students from all of these backgrounds, and anyone interested in language and development."

International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders


Contents: Preface. J.L. Elman, The Emergence of Language: A Conspiracy Theory. E. Bates, J.C. Goodman, On the Emergence of Grammar From the Lexicon. T. Givón, Generativity and Variation: The Notion 'Rule of Grammar' Revisited. J. Allen, M.S. Seidenberg, The Emergence of Grammaticality in Connectionist Networks. R. Miikkulainen, M.R. Mayberry, III, Disambiguation and Grammar as Emergent Soft Constraints. M.C. MacDonald, Distributional Information in Language Comprehension, Production, and Acquisition: Three Puzzles and a Moral. A.E. Goldberg, The Emergence of the Semantics of Argument Structure Constructions. B. MacWhinney, The Emergence of Language From Embodiment. C.E. Snow, Social Perspectives on the Emergence of Language. L.B. Smith, Children's Noun Learning: How General Learning Processes Make Specialized Learning Mechanisms. R.M. Golinkoff, K. Hirsh-Pasek, G. Hollich, Emergent Cues for Early Word Learning. W.E. Merriman, Competition, Attention, and Young Children's Lexical Processing. R.N. Aslin, J.R. Saffran, E.L. Newport, Statistical Learning in Linguistic and Nonlinguistic Domains. D.C. Plaut, C.T. Kello, The Emergence of Phonology From the Interplay of Speech Comprehension and Production: A Distributed Connectionist Approach. J.P. Stemberger, B.H. Bernhardt, The Emergence of Faithfulness. P. Gupta, G.S. Dell, The Emergence of Language From Serial Order and Procedural Memory.

Name: The Emergence of Language (Paperback)Psychology Press 
Description: Edited by Brian MacWhinney. For nearly four centuries, our understanding of human development has been controlled by the debate between nativism and empiricism. Nowhere has the contrast between these apparent alternatives been sharper than in the study of language acquisition...
Categories: Cognitive Science, Language, Psychology of, Language Development