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How to learn and use a language

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The talk will present a model of language learning and use which integrates these two cognitive processes with each other as well as with a detailed theory of language structure (Word Grammar). At the heart of this theory lie two claims: that language is a network of atomic nodes, and that this network is part of a much larger conceptual network – not a distinct cognitive module. The network claim explains why all parts of language are subject to spreading activation, and the non-modular claim explains why activation spreads freely between language and the rest of cognition. The theory also claims that processing involves not only spreading activation but also the creation of temporary highly active nodes for tokens of experience, which guide activation in processing and which can also turn into permanent network nodes – hence the piecemeal learning of language from usage. This view of learning is combined with the idea that generalisations are induced ‘off-line’ by correlations that are revealed by spreading activation.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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