Usage-based and emergentist approaches to language acquisition
It was long considered to be impossible to learn grammar based on linguistic experience alone. In the past decade, however, advances in usage-based linguistic theory, computational linguistics, and developmental psychology changed the view on this matter. So-called usage-based and emergentist approaches to language acquisition state that language can be learned from language use itself, by means of social skills like joint attention, and by means of powerful generalization mechanisms. This paper first summarizes the assumptions regarding the nature of linguistic representations and processing. Usage-based theories are nonmodular and nonreductionist, i.e., they emphasize the form-function relationships, and deal with all of language, not just selected levels of representations. Furthermore, storage and processing is considered to be analytic as well as holistic, such that there is a continuum between children's unanalyzed chunks and abstract units found in adult language. In the second part, the empirical evidence is reviewed. Children's linguistic competence is shown to be limited initially, and it is demonstrated how children can generalize knowledge based on direct and indirect positive evidence. It is argued that with these general learning mechanisms, the usage-based paradigm can be extended to multilingual language situations and to language acquisition under special circumstances.
Linguistics. Volume 47, Issue 2, Pages 383–411, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: 10.1515/LING.2009.014, /March/2009