CLS Meeting Series - Nate George (Penn State University)
Mar 06, 2015
from 09:00 AM to 10:30 AM
|Where||127 Moore Building|
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The Challenges of Relational Language for First and Second Language Learners
Relational terms, such as verbs and prepositions, are fundamental components of language, conveying dynamic and static relations between objects in events (e.g., “The man kicked the ball,” or “The apple was on the table”). Yet, these “hard words” (Gleitman, Cassidy, Papafragou, Nappa, & Trueswell, 2005) are notoriously difficult to learn (Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2006; Imai et al., 2008; Waxman et al., 2013). Relational terms demand that we map a discrete representational system (e.g., a word) onto continuous and dynamic events that unfold through space and time (Hespos, Grossman, & Saylor, 2010). In addition, relational terms label only part of a motion event and languages differ in the parts that are highlighted. For instance, English speakers use the verb cross to depict an object moving from one side of a surface to another, while Japanese speakers use different verbs to depict crossing a bounded surface (e.g., a street) as compared to an unbounded surface (e.g., a field; Muehleisen & Imai, 1997).
In this talk, I will present two lines of research designed to better understand the processes that allow first and second language learners to navigate these challenges en route to acquiring relational language. In the first, I ask how cross-linguistic differences in relational categories may impede the learning of a second language in adult monolinguals, and whether bilinguals might have an advantage in acquiring novel linguistic categories as a function of their experience maintaining potentially conflicting representations. The second line of research looks to development, examining how infants first segment continuous streams of action into the discrete events that support later language. In particular, I focus on the interaction of three cues to event boundaries: statistical learning, acoustic packaging (i.e., concordance between events and labels), and the causal structure of events.