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LLS Colloquium: What can cross-situational statistical learning tell us about bilingual development and second language acquisition?

Thursday 30 November 2023, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Patrick Rebuschat (Lancaster University and University of Tübingen)

On Thursday 30th November 2023, Patrick Rebuschat (Lancaster/Tübingen) will be presenting on cross-situational statistical learning in bilingual development and second language acquisition.

Statistical learning, essentially our ability to make use of statistical information in the environment to acquire (linguistic) knowledge, plays a fundamental role in how we learn languages. Following the seminal work of Saffran et al. (1996), there is substantial empirical evidence demonstrating that infants, children, and adults can rely on statistical learning to complete a variety of linguistic tasks, from speech segmentation and phonological categorization to word learning and syntactic development (see Frost et al., 2019, for a recent re- view). Statistical computations can be applied to a range of language units, including speech sounds, syllables, lexical categories, and syntactic phrases, but they are not limited to the domain of language. Instead, as previous research has shown, statistical learning is domain-general, i.e. it enables us to acquire information from multiple cognitive domains (language, music, etc.) and across a range of modalities (auditory, visual, tactile, etc.) (e.g., Frost et al., 2015). Moreover, statistical learning is not unique to human learners, as non- human primates rely on statistical learning, too (e.g., Rey et al., 2019).

In this talk, I will review recent statistical learning research conducted collaboratively in our group, Lancaster’s Language Learning Lab. The focus will be on experimental studies using the cross-situational learning paradigm developed by Monaghan et al. (2015). In this paradigm, participants are exposed to a novel language in ambiguous contexts under incidental learning conditions. That is, participants face the challenge of having to rapidly map novel sounds or sound sequences to multiple referents in the environment without prior information of the learning target and without feedback. To accomplish this task, participants need to be able to keep track of co-occurrence statistics across multiple learning trials, hence cross-situational statistical learning.

In a sequence of studies, we explored cross-situational learning of novel phonology, words, morphology and grammar, either separately or simultaneously, using either natural languages (Latin, Japanese) or artificial languages (based, for example, on Japanese, Portuguese, German), comparing incidental or intentional learning conditions, the effect of instructional manipulations (e.g., feedback, explicit instruction, spacing) and the role of individual differences (e.g., declarative and procedural memory, working memory). Most of our studies have focused on adult participants (e.g., Monaghan et al. 2019, 2021; Rebuschat et al., 2021; Walker et al., 2020), but we have recently completed studies testing cross-situational learning in children. I will conclude the presentation with a reflection on the implications of this research for the study of bilingual development in children and adolescents and second language acquisition in adults.


The talk will take place at 4pm, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions at the end. There will also be an informal drinks reception afterwards in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science (Deborah Hines Room, 2nd floor). Everyone is welcome!

Location: V/N/045