Learning Meaning without Primitives: Typology Predicts Developmental Patterns

Barend BeekhuizenLeiden University
Afsaneh FazlyUniversity of Toronto
Suzanne StevensonUniversity of Toronto

Abstract

Does the cognitive naturalness of concepts affect the acquisitional path of meaning? In this paper, we explore the use of crosslinguistically elicited data to approximate cognitive naturalness, following Gentner and Bowerman’s (2009) Typological Prevalence Hypothesis. Using the domain of topological spatial relations as a case study, we show how this kind of data allows us to simulate developmental patterns of order of acquisition and overgeneralization in Dutch. This result suggests that the Typological Prevalence Hypothesis can be computationally operationalized and evaluated, that modeling semantic acquisition without hand-coded semantic primitives is possible, and finally, that crosslinguistic data provides a good source of information to do so.

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