In a new study, researchers found that children store massive information to master their native language.
The finding shows that language acquisition between birth and 18 is a remarkable cognitive function.
The study was done a team from UC Berkeley and the University of Rochester.
In the study, the team aimed to find the amounts and different kinds of information that English speakers need to learn their native language.
They introduced theory-neutral estimates of the information learners possess about how language works.
They conducted calculations at several levels of linguistic analysis, including phonemes, wordforms, lexical semantics, word frequency, and syntax.
They found that from infancy to young adulthood, native English language learners may absorb about 12.5 million bits of information about the language to master English.
The majority of the content is lexical semantics knowledge.
It is interesting that very little of this information is syntactic or grammar of a language, even in their upper bound analyses.
The data can fill a 1.5 MB floppy disk.
The new findings suggest that human language acquisition is hard work and that children and teens are remarkable learners.
They also show that robots may not have an easy time mastering it.
The findings also show that syntax represents just a tiny piece of language learning and that that the main task is in learning what so many words mean.
The team suggests that the focus on semantics versus syntax distinguishes humans from robots.
Machines know what words go together and where they go in sentences, but they know very little about the meaning of words.
This is the first study providing a number on the amount a person needs to learn to acquire his/her native language.
The senior author of the study is Steven Piantadosi, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.
The lead author is Frank Mollica, a Ph.D. candidate in cognitive science at the University of Rochester.
The study is published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.
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