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First-Language Acquisition of Morphology  

Dorit Ravid

First-language acquisition of morphology refers to the process whereby native speakers gain full and automatic command of the inflectional and derivational machinery of their mother tongue. Despite language diversity, evidence shows that morphological acquisition follows a shared path in development in evolving from semantically and structurally simplex and non-productive to more complex and productive. The emergence and consolidation of the central morphological systems in a language typically take place between the ages of two and six years, while mature command of all systems and subsystems can take up to 10 more years, and is mediated by the consolidation of literacy skills. Morphological learning in both inflection and derivation is always interwoven with lexical growth, and derivational acquisition is highly dependent on the development of a large and coherent lexicon. Three critical factors platform the acquisition of morphology. One factor is the input patterns in the ambient language, including various types of frequency. Input provides the context for children to pay attention to morphological markers as meaningful cues to caregivers’ intentions in interactive sociopragmatic settings of joint attention. A second factor is language typology, given that languages differ in the amount of word-internal information they package in words. The “typological impact” in morphology directs children to the ways pertinent conceptual and structural information is encoded in morphological structures. It is thus responsible for great differences among languages in the timing and pace of learning morphological categories such as passive verbs. Finally, development itself is a central mechanism that drives morphological acquisition from emergence to productivity in three senses: as the filtering device that enables the break into the morphological system, in providing the span of time necessary for the consolidation of morphological systems in children, and in hosting the cognitive changes that usher in mature morphological systems in both speech and writing in adolescents and adults.


Computational Models of Morphological Learning  

Jordan Kodner

A computational learner needs three things: Data to learn from, a class of representations to acquire, and a way to get from one to the other. Language acquisition is a very particular learning setting that can be defined in terms of the input (the child’s early linguistic experience) and the output (a grammar capable of generating a language very similar to the input). The input is infamously impoverished. As it relates to morphology, the vast majority of potential forms are never attested in the input, and those that are attested follow an extremely skewed frequency distribution. Learners nevertheless manage to acquire most details of their native morphologies after only a few years of input. That said, acquisition is not instantaneous nor is it error-free. Children do make mistakes, and they do so in predictable ways which provide insights into their grammars and learning processes. The most elucidating computational model of morphology learning from the perspective of a linguist is one that learns morphology like a child does, that is, on child-like input and along a child-like developmental path. This article focuses on clarifying those aspects of morphology acquisition that should go into such an elucidating a computational model. Section 1 describes the input with a focus on child-directed speech corpora and input sparsity. Section 2 discusses representations with focuses on productivity, developmental paths, and formal learnability. Section 3 surveys the range of learning tasks that guide research in computational linguistics and NLP with special focus on how they relate to the acquisition setting. The conclusion in Section 4 presents a summary of morphology acquisition as a learning problem with Table 4 highlighting the key takeaways of this article.


Polysynthesis: A Diachronic and Typological Perspective  

Michael Fortescue

Polysynthesis is informally understood as the packing of a large number of morphemes into single words, as in (1) from Bininj Gun-wok (Evans, in press).1) a-ban-yawoyʔ-wargaʔ-maɳe-gaɲ-giɲe-ŋ 1SGSUBJ-3PLOBJ-again-wrong-BEN-meat-cook-PSTPF 'I cooked the wrong meat for them again.' Its status as a distinct typological category into which some of the world’s languages fall, on a par with isolating, agglutinating, or fusional languages, has been controversial from the start. Nevertheless, researchers working with these languages are seldom in doubt as to their status as distinct from these other morphological types. This has been complicated by the fact that the speakers of such languages are largely limited to hunter-gatherers—or were so in the not too distant past—so the temptation is to link the phenomenon directly to way of life. This proves to be oversimplified, although it is certainly true that languages qualifying as polysynthetic are almost everywhere spoken in peripheral regions and are on the decline in the modern world—few children are learning them today. Perhaps the most pervasive of the traits that give these languages the impression of a “special” status is that of holophrasis, which can be defined as the (possible) expression of what in less synthetic languages would be whole sentences in single complex (usually verbal) words. It turns out, however, that there is much greater variety among polysynthetic languages than is generally thought: there are few other traits that they all share, although distinct subtypes can in fact be distinguished, notably the affixing as opposed to the incorporating type. These languages have considerable importance for the investigation of the diachronic complexification of languages in general and of language acquisition by children, as well as for theories of language universals. The sociolinguistic factors behind their development have only recently begun to be studied in depth. All polysynthetic languages today are to some degree endangered (they are dying off at an alarming rate), and many have been poorly studied if at all, which makes their investigation before it is too late a prime goal for linguistics.