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Departmental Colloquium: Prediction as a mechanism supporting language learning

Naomi Havron
Tuesday, July 12, 2022, 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Young children can exploit the syntactic context of a novel word to narrow down its probable meaning (syntactic bootstrapping). I propose that syntactic bootstrapping relates to a larger cognitive model: predictive processing. According to this model, we perceive and make sense of the world by constantly predicting what will happen next in a probabilistic fashion. I will outline evidence that prediction operates within language acquisition, and show how this framework helps us understand the way lexical knowledge refines syntactic predictions, and how syntactic knowledge refines predictions about novel words’ meanings. I end by discussing some challenges of applying the predictive processing framework to syntactic bootstrapping and propose new avenues to investigate in future work.