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The Emergentist Coalition Model of Word Learning in Children Has Implications for Language in Aging

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Abstract

This chapter explores how a combination of influences can lead to observable changes in language comprehension. It speculates about how such an integrated model could help us see atypical development as part of the continuum of typical development and how aging might affect the more normative processes of language learning. It uses one aspect of language development, word learning, as a test case. The chapter is organized in four sections. Firstly, it reviews theories that have been posited to account for word learning. It then describes a theoretical alternative that incorporates the best of the theories in an integrative framework and allows for testable hypotheses about word learning. This alternative is the emergentist coalition model (ECM). Thirdly, it examines the impact of an integrated theory for approaching questions in language development for both normal and atypical children. The ECM provides a richer picture of the factors necessary for language acquisition, and in particular lexical acquisition, to occur. © 2006 by Ellen Bialystok, Fergus I.M. Craik. All rights reserved.

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... That is, because words systematically co-occur with different information sources and perceptual events, words can serve as systematic cues for attention (e.g., Huetting and Altmann, 2007). As a general construct, attention and cued attention are widely considered to be important to early word learning (Plunkett, 1997;Hollich et al., 2000;Smith, 2000;Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek, 2006;Pruden et al., 2006;Yoshida and Hanania, 2007;Halberda, 2009); and infants show early sensitivity to contextual cues as guides to attention and learning (Tomasello, 1995;Saffran et al., 1996Saffran et al., , 1999Saffran, 2003;Ramscar et al., 2010;Nomikou and Rohlfing, 2011). More specific to the attentional role of speech, research on online speech processing by adults shows strong attentional effects of words cuing attention: words appear to automatically direct looking to the location of a mentioned object (Altmann, 2004;Knoeferle and Crocker, 2007). ...
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Conference Paper
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Chapter
This chapter discusses word learning in the context of the whole child. It states that Lois Bloom stresses how word learning forms a part of language development and how language emerges out of a nexus of other developments in emotion, cognition, and social connectedness. It adds that Bloom presents her views as an antidote to the MIT perspective, which highlights a language acquisition device instead of a real child. It discusses that Bloom consistently argues that language development must not be studied in isolation as the acquisition of a formal system.
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Research on human infants has begun to shed light on early-developing processes for segmenting perceptual arrays Into objects. Infants appear to perceive objects by analyzing three-dimensional surface arrangements and motions. Their perception does not accord with a general tendency to maximize flgural goodness or to attend to nonaccidental geometric relations in visual arrays. Object perception does accord with principles governing the motions of material bodies: Infants divide perceptual arrays into units that move as connected wholes, that move separately from one another, that tend to maintain their size and shape over motion, and that tend to act upon each other only on contact. These findings suggest that a general representation of object unity and boundaries is interposed between representations of surfaces and representations of objects of familiar kinds. The processes that construct this representation may be related to processes of physical reasoning.
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What features of brain processing and neural development support linguistic development in young children? To what extent is the profile and timing of linguistic development in young children determined by a pre-ordained genetic programme? Does the environment play a crucial role in determining the patterns of change observed in children growing up? Recent experimental, neuroimaging and computational studies of developmental change in children promise to contribute to a deeper understanding of how the brain becomes wired up for language. In this review, the muttidisciplinary perspectives of cognitive neuroscience, experimental psycholinguistics and neural network modelling are brought to bear on four distinct areas in the study of language acquisition: early speech perception, word recognition, word learning and the acquisition of grammatical inflections. It is suggested that each area demonstrates how linguistic development can be driven by the interaction of general learning mechanisms, highly sensitive to particular statistical regularities in the input, with a richly structured environment which provides the necessary ingredients for the emergence of linguistic representations that support mature language processing. Similar epigenetic principles, guiding the emergence of linguistic structure, apply to all these domains, offering insights into phenomena ranging from the precocity of young infant's sensitivity to speech contrasts to the complexities of the problem facing the young child learning the arabic plural.
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This chapter describes research findings from the social-pragmatic approach. It discusses that Nameera Akhtar and Michael Tomasello's dramatic findings demonstrate how word learning occurs in some fairly complex, nonostensive situations amid the flow of social interaction. It states that current models of word learning, as suggested by Akhtar and Tomasello, undervalue the role of social interaction. It explains that because language has social goals as its ultimate purpose, social interactions are the outcome of word learning.
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Abstract. Thesis (Ph. D.)--Temple University, 2002. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 109-121).
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The tendency of infants to distribute attention selectively to novel and familiar visual stimuli was employed to study infants' recognition memory for a series of visual targets. Infants 5 months of age demonstrated an unequal distribution of visual fixation to novel and familiar stimuli, with more attention to the novel, on both immediate and delayed stimulus-recognition tests for each of three novelty problems administered during a single testing session. The degree of differential fixation to novel targets exhibited no reliable decline from immediate to delayed testing and was not significantly altered by the serial order which the problem occupied during immediate recognition testing.
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Toddlers' acquisition of the Novel Name-Nameless Category (N3C) principle was examined to investigate the developmental lexical principles framework and the applicability of the specificity hypothesis to relations involving lexical principles. In Study 1, we assessed the ability of 32 children between the ages of 16 and 20 months to use the N3C principle (operationally defined as the ability to fast map). As predicted, only some of the children could fast map. This finding provided evidence for a crucial tenet of the developmental lexical principles framework: Some lexical principles are not available at the start of language acquisition. Children who had acquired the N3C principle also had significantly larger vocabularies and were significantly more likely to demonstrate 2-category exhaustive sorting abilities than children who had not acquired the principle. The 2 groups of children did not differ in either age or object permanence abilities. The 16 children who could not fast map were followed longitudinally until they attained a vocabulary spurt; at that time, their ability to fast map was retested (Study 2). Results provided a longitudinal replication of the findings of Study 1. Implications of these findings for both the developmental lexical principles framework and the specificity hypothesis are discussed.
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This study investigated whether spouses would adopt a specialized speech register when communicating with adults with probable Alzheimer's disease. A picture description task was used so that the effectiveness of such speech accommodations could be assessed. The AD subjects did not vary the syntactic complexity, semantic complexity, or content of their descriptions when they were describing individual pictures versus directing their spouse to choose one of four pictures in a barrier task. The spouses' picture descriptions were more complex syntactically and semantically than the AD subjects' and included more highly salient elements. The spouses also varied the complexity and content of their descriptions, reducing syntactic and semantic complexity and increasing references to highly salient picture elements during the barrier task. These accommodations appeared to facilitate the AD subjects' performance on the picture description task.
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Previous studies have demonstrated that children aged 2;0 can learn new words in a variety of non-ostensive contexts. The current two studies were aimed at seeing if this was also true of children just beginning to learn words at 1;6. In the first study an adult interacted with 48 children. She used a nonce word to announce her intention to find an object ('Let's find the gazzer'), picked up and rejected an object with obvious disappointment, and then gleefully found the target object (using no language). Children learned the new word as well in this condition as in a condition in which the adult found the object immediately. In the second study the adult first played several rounds of a finding game with each of 60 children, in which it was first established that one of several novel objects was always in a very distinctive hiding place (a toy barn). The adult then used a nonce word to announce her intention to find an object ('Let's find the toma') and then proceeded to the barn. In the key condition the barn was mysteriously 'locked'; the child thus never saw the target object after the nonce word was introduced. Children learned the new word as well in this condition as in a condition in which the adult found the object immediately. The results of these two studies suggest that from very early in language acquisition children learn words not through passive, associative processes, but rather through active attempts to understand adult behaviour in a variety of action and discourse contexts.
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Two general types of accounts have been offered to explain the smartness of young children's word learning. One account postulates that children enter the word-learning task with specific knowledge about how words link to categories. The second account puts the source of children's smart word learning in knowledge about the pragmatics of communication and social interactions. The present experiment tested a third idea: that children's seemingly smart word learning derives from general, indeed mundane, cognitive processes. Forty-eight children from 18 to 28 months of age participated in a task designed to test our alternative explanation as applied to Akhtar, Carpenter, and Tomasello's (1996) finding that children use knowledge of the communicative intents of others to interpret a novel noun. Specifically, we suggest that children's attention to the proper referent was guided by the general effects of a contextual shift on memory and attention. The procedure in the present study was identical to that of Akhtar et al. except that we differentiated the target through a nonsocial context shift. Findings similar to that of Akhtar et al. emerged under the present procedures. These results strongly suggest that general attentional and memorial processes, and not knowledge about the communicative intents of others, may guide young children's word learning. These findings provide one demonstration of how smart word learning may emerge from more ordinary (and dumb) cognitive processes.