Jennifer Culbertson, University of Edinburgh, will present “Experimental evidence for learning biases in word and morpheme order” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 2:30 Friday February 26. Notice the different time – one hour earlier than usual. An abstract follows. All are welcome!
Recent research has suggested that the cross-linguistic and language-internal frequencies of particular word and morpheme orders might be shaped by constraints on processing combined with learned distributional information (e.g., Hupp et al. 2009, Futrell et al. 2015, Hahn et al. 2020). In this talk I discuss a set of three experiments investigating this claim using artificial language experiments. In the first two sets of experiments, I show that at least some constraints on nominal word and morpheme order in fact reflect universal learning biases, present across populations, independent of their native language. I argue that these biases are driven by simplicity and aspects of meaning, not frequency or other distributional information. In the third set of experiments, I address a well-known claim about the so-called suffixing preference, namely that it results from processing or perception of sequential information. By comparing behavioral results across language populations, I show that is likely not the case. Rather, speakers’ perception adapts to the affix order of their language.