Testing the Limits of Long-Distance Learning: Learning Beyond a Three-Segment Window
Article first published online: 3 FEB 2012
Copyright © 2012 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 740–756, May/June 2012
How to Cite
Finley, S. (2012), Testing the Limits of Long-Distance Learning: Learning Beyond a Three-Segment Window. Cognitive Science, 36: 740–756. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01227.x
- Issue published online: 4 MAY 2012
- Article first published online: 3 FEB 2012
- Received 29 November 2010; received in revised form 27 May 2011; accepted 24 July 2011
- Statistical learning;
- n-gram models;
- Consonant harmony
Traditional flat-structured bigram and trigram models of phonotactics are useful because they capture a large number of facts about phonological processes. Additionally, these models predict that local interactions should be easier to learn than long-distance ones because long-distance dependencies are difficult to capture with these models. Long-distance phonotactic patterns have been observed by linguists in many languages, who have proposed different kinds of models, including feature-based bigram and trigram models, as well as precedence models. Contrary to flat-structured bigram and trigram models, these alternatives capture unbounded dependencies because at an abstract level of representation, the relevant elements are locally dependent, even if they are not adjacent at the observable level. Using an artificial grammar learning paradigm, we provide additional support for these alternative models of phonotactics. Participants in two experiments were exposed to a long-distance consonant-harmony pattern in which the first consonant of a five-syllable word was [s] or [∫] (“sh”) and triggered a suffix that was either [-su] or [-∫u] depending on the sibilant quality of this first consonant. Participants learned this pattern, despite the large distance between the trigger and the target, suggesting that when participants learn long-distance phonological patterns, that pattern is learned without specific reference to distance.