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Cogn Sci. 2007 Mar 4;31(2):311-41. doi: 10.1080/15326900701221454.

Modeling the Developmental Patterning of Finiteness Marking in English, Dutch, German, and Spanish Using MOSAIC.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of LiverpoolSchool of Social Sciences and Law, Brunel University.


In this study, we apply MOSAIC (model of syntax acquisition in children) to the simulation of the developmental patterning of children's optional infinitive (OI) errors in 4 languages: English, Dutch, German, and Spanish. MOSAIC, which has already simulated this phenomenon in Dutch and English, now implements a learning mechanism that better reflects the theoretical assumptions underlying it, as well as a chunking mechanism that results in frequent phrases being treated as 1 unit. Using 1, identical model that learns from child-directed speech, we obtain a close quantitative fit to the data from all 4 languages despite there being considerable cross-linguistic and developmental variation in the OI phenomenon. MOSAIC successfully simulates the difference between Spanish (a pro-drop language in which OI errors are virtually absent) and obligatory subject languages that do display the OI phenomenon. It also highlights differences in the OI phenomenon across German and Dutch, 2 closely related languages whose grammar is virtually identical with respect to the relation between finiteness and verb placement. Taken together, these results suggest that (a) cross-linguistic differences in the rates at which children produce OIs are graded, quantitative differences that closely reflect the statistical properties of the input they are exposed to and (b) theories of syntax acquisition need to consider more closely the role of input characteristics as determinants of quantitative differences in the cross-linguistic patterning of phenomena in language acquisition.

2007 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.

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