Bootstrapping basic lexical categories and word order preverbally

Judit Gervain

The division of labor between frequent function words signaling structural relationships and less frequent content words, carrying lexical meaning, is universal across the world’s languages. How do infant learn about these basic building blocks of grammar? The talk will describe a series of behavioral studies with 7-8-month-old infants suggesting that infants use word frequency to establish these categories early on during language development, even before they have a sizeable lexicon. Comparative evidence from rats will also be presented that while non-human animals are sensitive to frequency information, they do not map this on to lexical categories, suggesting that the ability to represent these categories may be specific to language / humans.

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