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Cognition. 1995 Sep;56(3):271-9.

The acquisition of the English past tense in children and multilayered connectionist networks.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst 01003, USA.


The apparent very close similarity between the learning of the past tense by Adam and the Plunkett and Marchman model is exaggerated by several misleading comparisons--including arbitrary, unexplained changes in how graphs were plotted. The model's development differs from Adam's in three important ways: Children show a U-shaped sequence of development which does not depend on abrupt changes in input; U-shaped development in the simulation occurs only after an abrupt change in training regimen. Children overregularize vowel-change verbs more than no-change verbs; the simulation overregularizes vowel-change verbs less often than no-change verbs. Children, including Adam, overregularize more than they irregularize; the simulation overregularized less than it irregularized. Interestingly, the RM model--widely criticized as being inadequate--does somewhat better, correctly overregularizing vowel-change verbs more often than no-change verbs, and overregularizing more often than it irregularizes. Although Plunkett and Marchman's (1993) state of the art model incorporated hidden layers and back-propagation, used a more realistic phonological coding scheme, and explored a broader range of parameters than Rumelhart and McClelland's model, their results are farther from psychological reality. It is unknown whether any connectionist model can mimic a child's performance without resorting to unrealistic exogenous changes in the training or input, but it is clear that adding a hidden-layer and back-propagation does not ensure a solution.

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