Signal to Syntax: Bootstrapping from Speech to Grammar in Early Acquisition

Signal to Syntax: Bootstrapping from Speech to Grammar in Early Acquisition

Signal to Syntax: Bootstrapping from Speech to Grammar in Early Acquisition

Signal to Syntax: Bootstrapping from Speech to Grammar in Early Acquisition

Synopsis

In the beginning, before there are words, or syntax, or discourse, there is speech. Speech is an infant's gateway to language. Without exposure to speech, no language--or at most only a feeble facsimile of language--develops, regardless of how rich a child's biological endowment for language learning may be. But little is given directly in speech--not words, for example, as anyone who has ever listened to fluent conversation in an unfamiliar language can attest. Rather, words and phrases, or rudimentary categories--or whatever other information is required for syntactic and semantic analyses to begin operating--must be pulled from speech through an infant's developing perceptual capacities. By the end of the first year, an infant can segment at least some words from fluent speech. Beyond this, how impoverished or rich an infant's representations of input may be remains largely unknown. Clearly, in the debate over determinants of early language acquisition, the input speech stream has too often been offhandedly dismissed as a potential source of information. This volume brings together internationally-known scholars from a range of disciplines--linguistics, psychology, cognitive and computer science, and acoustics --who share common interests in how speech, in its phonological, prosodic, distributional, and statistical properties, may encode information useful for early language learning, and how such information may be deciphered by very young children. These scholars offer a spectrum of viewpoints on the possibility that aspects of speech may provide bootstraps for language learning; contribute important, state-of-the-art findings across a variety of relevant domains; and illuminate critical directions for future inquiry. The publication of this volume represents a significant step in renewing the bonds between two fields that have long been sundered--speech perception and language acquisition.

Excerpt

The contents of this volume are based on the proceedings of a conference held at Brown University, Providence, RI, February 19-21, 1993. The goal of the conference was to bring together scholars with a variety of disciplinary and philosophical backgrounds (including theoretical linguists, computer scientists, acousticians, and psychologists and cognitive scientists specializing in speech perception and language acquisition) to discuss issues bearing on how children's perception and representation of the speech stream may contribute to acquisition of syntax. Funding for the conference and preparation of this volume was provided by the National Science Foundation (DBS-9209461), the Mellon Foundation, the Brown University Wayland Collegium, and the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University.

We are indebted to several staff members and graduate students at Brown for their aid in planning and preparing for the conference, assisting during the conference, and preparing this volume: Monica Sylvester, Emily Pickett, Paul Allopenna, Amit Almor, Jean Andruski, Sam Bayer, Annette Burton, Gary Byma, Steve Finney, Rachel Kessinger, Eun-Joo Kwak, Thanassi Protopappas, Rushen Shi, Marty Smith, and Jennifer Utman.

Jim Morgan Katherine Demuth . . .

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