Dissertation Defense: Kathryn Schuler

Candidate Name: Kathryn Schuler

Major: Neuroscience

Advisor: Elissa Newport, Ph.D.

The acquisition of productive rules in child and adult language learners

In natural language, evidence suggests that, while some rules are productive (regular), applying broadly to new words, others are restricted to a specific set of lexical items (irregular). Further, the literature suggests that children make a categorical distinction between regular and irregular rules, applying only regular rules productively during acquisition. This strong distinction has led to the central question explored in this dissertation: what mechanism governs the acquisition of productive rules in children? In the literature, a number of approaches have been proposed to account for the productivity of some rules, but most fail to adequately capture this acquisition process. This dissertation is focused on one such mechanism, the Tolerance Principle, which has been shown to accurately predict productive rule formation on a number of rigorous measures. The goal of this dissertation is to provide converging evidence for the Tolerance Principle as a mechanism for productive rule acquisition using artificial grammar learning experiment in children and adults. To this end, we conduct three experiments to assess whether the Tolerance Principle can predict productive rule formation in children and adults. Across these three experiments, we find that the behavior of children is well predicted by the Tolerance Principle model, but the behavior of adults is not. Thus, a secondary goal of the dissertation is to argue that the Tolerance Principle is an acquisition mechanism exclusive to children. We hypothesize that cognitive differences between children and adults, particularly memory and cognitive control differences, may explain why the behavior of children but not adults is well predicted by the Tolerance Principle. We then demonstrate how these hypotheses can be tested in two further experiments with adults.

Friday, June 23, 2017 at 10:00am to 12:00pm

Building D, Warwick Evans Room
4000 Reservoir Road, N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events, Dissertation Defense


Biomedical Graduate Education, Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences



Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Becky Hoxter

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