Speaker Series: Dr. Elissa Newport, Georgetown University

Dr. Elissa L. Newport, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery at Georgetown University

Statistical language learning: Computational, maturational, and linguistic constraints


In recent years a number of problems in the brain and cognitive sciences have been addressed through statistical approaches, hypothesizing that humans and animals learn or adapt to their perceptual environments by tuning themselves to the statistics of incoming stimulation. Our own work on statistical language learning shows that infants, young children, and adults can compute, online and with remarkable speed, how consistently sounds co-occur, how frequently words occur in similar contexts, and the like, and can utilize these statistics to find candidate words in a speech stream, discover grammatical categories, and acquire simple syntactic structure in miniature languages. Our research also shows that there are maturational changes in statistical learning, with children sharpening the statistics and producing a more systematic language than the one to which they are exposed. Our most recent work examines variation in relation to linguistic universals, suggesting that, when inconsistencies occur on dimensions on which languages tend strongly to align in one direction, learners also shift the languages they learn in this direction. These processes potentially explain why children acquire language (and other patterns) more effectively than adults, and also how systematic language structures emerge in communities where usages are varied and inconsistent. Finally, a new direction in my research explores whether these mechanisms can be meaningfully related to recovery of function after damage to the brain early and late in life.


Dr. Elissa L. Newport is Professor of Neurology and Director of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery at Georgetown University. Her primary research interest is in human language acqui

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Poulton Hall, 230
1421 37th St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events





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