Guest Talk: Vera Kempe

21 April 2015
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Cognitive Abilities, Language Learning and the Emergence of Structure: Is Less Really More?

Ample evidence demonstrates that, in adults, greater cognitive ability is positively associated with language learning and language processing outcomes, accounting to a considerable extent for individual differences in these domains. These findings are at odds with Newport’s (1990) popular Less-Is-More hypothesis, which postulates that  limited cognitive abilities are responsible for children’s superiority in acquiring linguistic structure. Moreover, children’s cognitive limitations are assumed to drive regularization of input inconsistencies, which leads to the emergence of structure in language evolution, as attested for sign languages and creoles. Iterated language learning provides a method for studying language evolution in the lab. I will present findings comparing emergence of structure in adults and children to explore which aspects of children’s cognitive limitations, if any, may support the emergence of structure.