The role of the developing lexicon in constraining statistical learning
Learners make use of statistical information when acquiring language, but which statistics do they use? This talk argues that children's encoding of words in their developing lexicons plays a key role in guiding statistical learning of multiple domains of language. A first case study analyzes the statistical problem of phonetic category acquisition, showing how word forms in infants’ early lexicons can interact with acoustic cues to support robust sound category learning. A second case study examines noun class learning in Tsez, proposing ways in which characteristics of children’s early lexicons can explain their seemingly suboptimal use of cues to noun class membership. In each case, results from computational and experimental studies demonstrate that early lexical structure can influence language acquisition in unexpected ways. This points to a critical role for the developing lexicon in language acquisition and highlights the importance of considering how children integrate statistical information across multiple layers of linguistic structure.