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Language and the Learning CurveA new theory of syntactic development$
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Anat Ninio

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199299829

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199299829.001.0001

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The growth of syntax

The growth of syntax

(p.119) 5 The growth of syntax
Language and the Learning Curve

Anat Ninio

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the role of the environment in syntactic development, and argues for novel conceptualization derived from complexity theory. According to this view, language is a complex network, consisting of linguistic items as well as speakers who produce words and sentences when they speak. This chapter introduces complex systems and complex networks, in particular bipartite networks, which are then used to conceptualize speakers and linguistic items. The basics of graph theory are presented and so are Zipf and Pareto curves depicting distributions of items' frequency of use in a network. The principle of preferential attachment is described, contrasting it with a deterministic frequency effect. The implication for first language acquisition is that learning means linking to the huge language network; children learning to produce syntactic combinations do not reinvent language, nor do they internalize it; instead, they link to networks of other speakers producing similar combinations.

Keywords:   syntactic development, complexity theory, bipartite networks, graph theory, Zipf curve, Pareto curve, preferential attachment, deterministic frequency effect, first language acquisition

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