Field of Science

Boston University Conference on Language Development: Day 1

BUCLD is one of my favorite conferences, not least of which because it takes place every year just across the river. This year has been shaping up to be a particularly good year, if the first day is any indication.

Ben Ambridge (w/Julien Pine & Caroline Rowland) gave an excellent talk on learning semantic restrictions on verb alternations. Of all the work Steve Pinker has done, I think his verb alternation work is the least well-known, but it's also probably my favorite work, and it's nice to see someone systematically revisiting these issues, and I think Ambridge is making some important contributions.

Kenny Smith (w/Elizabeth Wonnacott) presented a really neat proof-of-concept involving language evolution, showing that you can get robust regularization of linguistic systems in a community of speakers even if none of the individual learners/speakers have strong biases to regularize the input. This was a really fun talk; one of those talks that makes one reconsider one's life choices ("should I be studying language evolution?").

Dea Hunsicker (w/Susan Goldin-Meadow) presented new analyses of an old home-sign corpus, looking at evidence that this particular home sign had noun phrases. Home-sign, for those who don't know it, is an ad-hoc mini sign language often developed by deaf children who don't have exposure to a developed sign language.

If I had to pick a best talk, I'd pick Erin Conwell's talk (w/Tim O'Donnell & Jesse Snedeker) on the dative alternation, in which she sketched an explanation of why, although double-object constructions are overall more frequent that prepositional-object constructions, the latter seem to be more productive in early child language. But I may be biased here in that Erin is a post-doc in the same lab as me.

There were a number of other good talks today that I saw -- and many that I didn't -- which deserve mention. I'd write more, but it's late, and there's another full day coming up tomorrow.

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