Characterizing Motherese: On the Computational Structure of Child-Directed Language

Abstract

We report a quantitative analysis of the cross-utterance coordination observed in child-directed language, where successive utterances often overlap in a manner that makes their constituent structure more prominent, and describe the application of a recently published unsupervised algorithm for grammar induction to the largest available corpus of such language, producing a grammar capable of accepting and generating novel wellformed sentences. We also introduce a new corpus-based method for assessing the precision and recall of an automatically acquired generative grammar without recourse to human judgment. The present work sets the stage for the eventual development of more powerful unsupervised algorithms for language acquisition, which would make use of the coordination structures present in natural child-directed speech.

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