Grounding the Acquisition of Grammar in Sensorimotor Representations

Tiago V. Maia and Nancy C. Chang

Drawing on data from linguistics, developmental psychology and the neurosciences, we present a computational theory of the acquisition of early grammar by infants. Based on the view that language is a mapping between form and meaning, we propose that a theory of language acquisition must be tightly integrated with a theory of the infant’s prelinguistic representations. Namely, the infant’s task is to learn how to map the linguistic form in the input to her representations of the corresponding scenes. We have developed a theory of prelinguistic cognition based on i) what is currently known about the architecture of the brain, and ii) the representational requirements for successful (sensorimotor) behavior in the world. We show how such prelinguistic sensorimotor representations can provide the basis for the acquisition of early grammatical forms, and thereby ground language in the world. Importantly, this is true not only at the lexical level, but also at the grammatical level.

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