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Morten Christiansen (Cornell University): "The Now-or-Never Bottleneck: A Fundamental Constraint on Language", 18 January, 2016


Date: 19 January 2015

When: 4pm, Monday 18 January

Where: The Engma Room, Coombs Building, ANU. Directions here

Language happens in the here-and-now. Our memory for linguistic input is fleeting. New material rapidly obliterates previous material. How then can the brain deal successfully with the continual deluge of linguistic input? I argue that, to deal with this "Now-or-Never" bottleneck, the brain must incrementally compress and recode language input as rapidly as possible into increasingly more abstract levels of linguistic representation. This perspective has profound implications for the nature of language processing, acquisition, and change. Focusing on language acquisition, I present a computational model that learns in a purely incremental fashion, through on-line processing of simple statistics, and offers broad, cross-linguistic coverage while uniting comprehension and production within a single framework. I conclude that the immediacy of language processing provides a fundamental constraint on accounts of language acquisition, implying that acquisition fundamentally involves learning to process, rather than inducing a grammar.

Background reading:

Christiansen, M.H. & Chater, N. (in press). [Downloadable] The Now-or-Never bottleneck: A fundamental constraint on language. Behavioral & Brain Sciences

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