Anchor points in language learning: The role of marker frequency

Virginia Valian, Seana Coulson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations

Abstract

We examine the role of markers as anchor points in adult learning of a miniature artificial language, with and without an accompanying reference field. Two dialects of the same language were created, differing only in number of grammatical markers and "content" words. In the high-frequency dialect a given marker occurred six times as often as a given content word, while in the low-frequency dialect a given marker occurred one and a half times as often as a given content word. In Experiment 1, without a reference field, subjects in the high-frequency dialect learned the structure of the language easily, but subjects in the low-frequency dialect learned only superficial properties of the language. In Experiment 2, with a reference field, subjects in both conditions learned, but those in the high-frequency condition learned more quickly. We propose that, with or without a reference field, learners use very high-frequency markers as anchor points for distributional analysis. We discuss the implications of our results for first language learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-86
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Volume27
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1988
Externally publishedYes

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