The developmental trajectory of statistical learning, ISF grant 584/16, 2016-2020
Infants, children and adults are capable of extracting recurring patterns from their environment through statistical learning (SL), an implicit learning mechanism that is considered to have an important role in language acquisition. Research over the past twenty years has shown that SL is present from very early infancy and found in a variety of tasks and across modalities. While SL is well established for infants and adults, little is known about its’ developmental trajectory during childhood leaving several important questions unanswered. SL is considered to play an important role in language acquisition. In fact, it has been proposed as an alternative mechanism to innate linguistic knowledge. Yet despite extensive research, relatively little is known about its developmental trajectory. The proposed research aims to examine two major issues that have significant theoretical implications for our understanding of SL and that have been under-studied to date. The first is the nature of age-related changes in SL: does SL improve with age, like many other cognitive capacities, or is it an early-maturing capacity that does not change after infancy? The second is the nature of individual differences in SL: does SL vary between children, and if so, what are the sources and consequences of such variation for language learning?
Starting Big: the role of multi-word chunks in first and second language learning (ISF 527-12, BSF 2011107)
Why are children better language learners than adults despite being worse at a range of other cognitive tasks? This project offers a new perspective on this long-standing question by highlighting the differential role of multi-word chunks in child and adult language learning. In a nutshell, we propose that children are better at certain aspects of language learning because they learn from larger and less-analyzed units: while children's utilize multi-word chunks (like I-don't-know) in the learning process, adults will tend to learn from individual words – a tendency that will hinder learning of certain grammatical relations (Arnon, 2010). As part of this project, we’ve shown that children rely on multiword information in processing (Arnon & Clark, 2011); that such units serve as building blocks in learning (Arnon, McCauley & Christiansen, 2017); and that they can facilitate learning of certain grammatical relations in adult learners (Arnon & Ramscar, 2012; Siegelman & Arnon, 2015).
Studying the emergence of linguistic structure in the lab.
Experimental work in the field of language evolution suggests that cultural transmission can lead to the emergence of linguistic structure as speakers’ weak individual biases become amplified through iterated learning (Kirby et al. 2008). Interestingly, there is little evidence for similar patterns in children, despite such evidence being crucial for evaluating the role of learning biases in the emergence of linguistic structure since children are the most frequent learners in the actual process of cultural transmission and have been claimed to play a unique role in the emergence of structure. In this project, we use a novel child-friendly ILM paradigm (Raviv & Arnon, 2016) to explore the emergence of structure in child learners.
Valency and transitivity in contact: the case of Coptic , GIF 2017-2020
The typology of verb borrowing has been studied intensively. However, most studies have focused on the relative borrowability of particular meanings, on the one hand (e.g., Haspelmath & Tadmor 2009), or the morphosyntactic means of integrating loan verbs into the grammatical structure of the target language (e.g., Wohlgemuth 2009). However, almost entirely neglected is the integration of loan verbs into recipient language transitivity and valency patterns. The proposed project aims to address this lacuna by providing an account of this phenomenon with respect to a single contact situation, taking as a test case Coptic-Greek contact in Late Antique and Early Islamic Egypt.
Alon Fellowship - ISF 248/13 'The typology of adposition borrowing' (2013-2016)
Typological approaches have proved extremely illuminating for language contact research. To date, they have been applied to a range of grammatical and lexical categories, as well as a number of basic meanings. This project aims to fill a significant gap in the typology of language contact phenomena, namely, a cross-linguistic study of the borrowing of adpositions and other case markers, based on an extensive language sample. A systematic worldwide study of this phenomenon has never been conducted. Since the issue of adposition borrowing is a multifaceted one, this project will tackle it in a number of ways: a survey of secondary literature, grammars, the construction of a detailed database, as well as several in-depth studies of adposition borrowing in primary text corpora in a number of languages.
This project is intended primarily as a contribution to the typology of language contact, but also as a contribution to the typology of adpositions in general: while it is well known that adpositions are borrowed, this phenomenon rarely makes it into general typological treatments of adpositions. The proposed project aims to address this gap. As Yaron Matras pointed out, 'language contact acts as a natural laboratory of language change where properties may become transparent that are otherwise obscure, and so it may allow deeper insights into the functions of grammatical structures and categories.' As such, the study of adposition borrowing across languages is likely to lead to insights that have relevance for our understanding of language in general.
ISF Grant 1366/14, 2014-2017
“Dative selection between the syntax and the lexicon”
This research project is concerned with pinpointing the divide between core and non-core third or added participants, realized as bare dative marked DPs or as Prepositional Phrases, and denoting such roles as Goal, Recipient, Possessor, Beneficiary/Maleficiary, Affected participant or Attitude Holder.
Its objective is to explore and clarify the syntactic and semantic reality behind this wide-spread terminology, and to suggest a novel way to look at argument selection in the case of ditransitives. Specifically, the study will aim to corroborate two hypotheses: the first concerning the semantic roles related to core and non-core participants, namely that semantic roles involved in these constructions have clear syntactic correlates, and that often their superficial fuzziness is due to a structural ambiguity; the second hypothesis concerns the possible attachment sites of core and non-core participants, which, it will be suggested, can vary from language to language and have correlates in the type of verbs allowed to participate in dative constructions, and in the range of interpretations these constructions may have.
Huji-FAPEST cooperation grant, with Prof. Edit Doron, 2012-2014
“Cross-linguistic Reflections of Cognitive Distinctions”
The present project will seek to study a number of particular cross linguistic phenomena in languages which are widely distinct, such as those found in Brazil vs. Israel, with the aim of delineating specific areas where linguistic characteristics reflect human cognition and general semantic considerations rather than being arbitrary. The project will span several phenomena which we hypothesize are relevant to this task, such as the distinction between mass and count nouns, the distinction between collectivity and distributivity, the nominal expression of genericity, the verbal expression of habituality, grammatical aspect, and others.
ISF Grant 1057/10, with Prof. Edit Doron, 2010-2014
“Modal and temporal aspects of habituality”
The general objective of the project Modal and temporal aspects of habituality was to clarify how the concept of habituality is grammaticalized in natural language by exploring interactions between the categories of aspect and modality in the expression of habituality. We showed that while habituality is essentially a modal category, the way it is manifested in particular languages closely depends on the make-up of their aspectual systems. In other words, the interaction with aspect is secondary and depends on the aspectual make-up of a given language.
ISF Grant 2014-2017
Polarity items across languages
GIF Young Scientist Grant 2015-2016
Alternative-sensitive computations in natural language: focus-sensitive particles and embedded exhaustification