The acquisition of language is a daunting task for infants. Research on this process provides an opportunity to address central issues related to the early development of human cognition. This application focuses on statistical language learning mechanisms that detect linguistic units by tracking input patterns of sounds. Recent research suggests that infant learners possess statistical learning mechanisms that may play an important role in language acquisition. Still unknown is the way in which these mechanisms interact to derive linguistic structure, given multiple possibilities. The proposed research addresses these issues by posing the following questions: (1) Can infants perform multiple analyses of the same set of input subsequently, so that the output of one set of statistical computations is the input to the next analysis, and simultaneously, such that multiple levels are processed at once? What factors determine which analysis emerges as the output of the learning process? (2) Do similar constraints on learning, with respect to acoustic and statistical structure, govern statistical language learning by adults, children, and infants? (3) Are the statistical learning mechanisms investigated in (1)-(2) tailored specifically for language learning, or can they operate on stimuli drawn from other domains? These questions will be addressed using previously developed laboratory learning paradigms which permit careful manipulation of the input. The answers to these questions will inform an emerging theoretical framework, constrained statistical learning, intended to elucidate the study of language acquisition and other pressing issues in human learning and development.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-3 (01))
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Mccardle, Peggy D
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University of Wisconsin Madison
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United States
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Benitez, Viridiana L; Saffran, Jenny R (2018) Predictable Events Enhance Word Learning in Toddlers. Curr Biol 28:2787-2793.e4
Potter, Christine E; Wang, Tianlin; Saffran, Jenny R (2017) Second Language Experience Facilitates Statistical Learning of Novel Linguistic Materials. Cogn Sci 41 Suppl 4:913-927
Willits, Jon A; Seidenberg, Mark S; Saffran, Jenny R (2014) Distributional structure in language: contributions to noun-verb difficulty differences in infant word recognition. Cognition 132:429-36
Lany, Jill (2014) Judging words by their covers and the company they keep: probabilistic cues support word learning. Child Dev 85:1727-39
Willits, Jon A; Wojcik, Erica H; Seidenberg, Mark S et al. (2013) Toddlers Activate Lexical Semantic Knowledge in the Absence of Visual Referents: Evidence from Auditory Priming. Infancy 18:
Romberg, Alexa R; Saffran, Jenny R (2013) All together now: concurrent learning of multiple structures in an artificial language. Cogn Sci 37:1290-320
Lew-Williams, Casey; Saffran, Jenny R (2012) All words are not created equal: expectations about word length guide infant statistical learning. Cognition 122:241-6
Romberg, Alexa R; Saffran, Jenny R (2012) Expectancy learning from probabilistic input by infants. Front Psychol 3:610
Hay, Jessica F; Saffran, Jenny R (2012) Rhythmic grouping biases constrain infant statistical learning. Infancy 17:610-641
Lany, Jill; Saffran, Jenny R (2011) Interactions between statistical and semantic information in infant language development. Dev Sci 14:1207-19

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