Linguistics and English Language

Language evolution seminar

Speaker: Tamar Johnson (Centre for Language Evolution, The University of Edinburgh)

Title: Assessing integrative complexity as a predictor of morphological learning in the presence of phonological cues

Abstract: Morphological paradigms differ widely across languages: some feature relatively few contrasts, and others, dozens. Under the assumption that languages evolve to maximise their learnability and that simpler systems are generally easier to learn (e.g. Chater & Vitanyi, 2003), this variation is surprising. Recent work on morphological complexity has resolved this paradox by arguing that certain features of even very large paradigms make them easy to learn and use. Specifically, Ackerman and Malouf (2013) propose an information-theoretic measure, i-complexity, which captures the extent to which forms in one part of a paradigm predict others. They contrast this measure with e-complexity, which is commonly used as a measure of morphological complexity in the literature (e.g., Bickel & Nichols, 2005) and captures the number of distinctions made by the language and the different ways to mark each grammatical function.

In this talk I will present our findings showing that in morphological systems with no semantic and phonological cues for class membership, e-complexity is a better predictor of the learnability of an inflectional paradigm than i-complexity, both in neural networks and human learners. Moreover, in human learners, we find only weak evidence (if any) that low i-complexity paradigms are easier to learn. Based on previous studies showing that human learners need redundant phonological or semantic cues in addition to distributional cues to form classes (Frigo and McDonald, 1998; Gerken, Wilson & Gomez, 2009), we test the hypothesis that in the presence of phonological cues for class membership, low i-complexity facilitates learning the inflectional system. I will discuss the method used in this study and present preliminary results.


Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution

Henry Conklin

Centre for Language Evolution

Jun 16 2020 -

Language evolution seminar

2020-06-16: Assessing integrative complexity as a predictor of morphological learning in the presence of phonological cues

Online via link invitation