Distributional Learning

At some point, all theories of acquisition need to consider how the child learns the major syntactic categories, even if they begin with a simple lexically specific, functional, or semantic approach. Thus, from the stream of words that children hear around them they must figure out which ones belong to the different major word classes, such as nouns, verbs, or adjectives. One important approach to this learning problem is the distributional learning view, according to which children not only use semantic mappings to acquire a category such as verb but also use distributional factors, such as it takes an -ed ending to express pastness or an -ing or -s ending in present tense contexts, it occurs with auxiliary verbs, and so forth. In this view, children come to know that a particular morpheme is a verb because they hear that morpheme cooccurring with inflections that mark tense, for example. This kind of approach argues that children are sensitive to all kinds of distributional patterns in the linguistic input to which they are exposed.

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